De’Ja Vu’ University Land Deal

This is a story of how a $2 million land sale will obtain the $8 million East Jr. High from the Boise School District and finance part of a BSU athletic track complex for almost 45 years.

As it sits now, we don’t like the look or the smell of the deal involving Boise
Schools, BSU, Harris Ranch, and Brighton Corp.

The GUARDIAN has done the research, run some numbers through the calculator, read news reports and talked to school officials. The players will tell you we are being overly simplistic, but we think we have it right. Here is our take:

–The development known as Harris Ranch will have 2100 homes, creating the need for new schools, including relocation of East Jr. High with a new building at a new site.

–The Boise Independent School District recently sought and received voter approval for a $94 million bond that would be used in part for the new facility.

–The Harris family sold a 20 acre parcel to Brighton Corp. for $2.1 million.

–BSU and Boise Schools agreed to ultimately do a land swap June 19 after BSU got the land from Brighton… Schools get the 20 acre plot at Harris Ranch and BSU gets the old J-High for a track and field athletic site.

–Brighton got the land appraised at $5 million and sold it to the BSU for that price. The company reportedly took cash for a portion of the sale price and “donated” two or three million of the price to BSU for an income tax break. Smart move on the part of Brighton.

–Here is the rub: The land has restrictive covenants which PROHIBIT SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION! The Harris Family Partnership and the schools have been debating the issue since January without agreement.

–Harris Ranch was quoted in the Daily Paper Tuesday saying all parties were aware of the restrictions. They plan to maintain their property rights and they have declined to change the restrictive use of the parcel despite requests by the schools to do so.

–In summary, Boise Schools has agreed to accept land that is questionably worth $5 million in exchange for a school with 15 acres of prime downtown land valued at $8 million.

–A Boise Schools spokesman told the GUARDIAN the $3 million deficit would be made up by allowing the schools to use the facility until “everything is equal.” Based on the current annual Boise Schools expenditure of $67,000 for use of BSU sports facilities, It will take almost 45 years to recoup the $3 million shortfall incurred by BSU! Nice little loan on the part of Boise Schools to BSU.

Meanwhile, Boise schools have filed suit against Harris Ranch in an attempt to exercise eminent domain over the restrictive use of the 20 acres the schools will ultimately own.

With a nod to the debacle just a javelin toss across Broadway from East Jr. High at University Place, Boise Schools brass should have better sense than to deal with a developer and a University over a proposed construction project.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Your usual great job Guardian. Just one more part to the equation. Wait till the city council is asked to appove the 2000 plus home project in the next couple of weeks (recommended approval from planning) and they tell Harris Ranch ” You want to get approval? make the school issue go away and we can talk” Before this one is done, there will be a lot of “stink” on a lot of people.
    “Oh what tangled webs we weave— when we …….

  2. It’s a damn shame that somewhere out there, there isn’t at least one person running for office that even hints at the notion of planned, sustainable growth vis-a-vis more of the same ol’ c-rap. ; ) Or worse, the irrational exuberance and apathy ala narcissism that increasingly permeates our community and allows the status quo to continue to exist.

    We’re all gonna get exactly what we deserve this November, and in years to come. We are not immune to the historical and contemporary threats to the very existence of whole towns, even cities. And if we chose to continue merrily along, ignorant, or in denial of history… You know… Doomed.

  3. curious george
    May 23, 2007, 5:15 am

    The BSU Foundation isn’t Boise State University – it is a private non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to invest money (usually in land) in order to raise money (usually through the sale or lease of that land) for BSU educational programs and student scholarships. It cannot gift land to the State Board of Education (BSU’s Board of Trustees).

    The BSUF has previously purchased land and raised money for (and constructed) buildings for BSU’s use, which it then leases to the university at a favorable rate ($1/year, with a 1$ buy-out at the end of a 20-year lease – but BSU must maintain the facility during the lease, at no cost to the foundation). The most notably examples of this process are the Engineering & Technology Building, Micron Engineering Building, and the Civil Engineering Laboratory.

    But as a private non-profit organization, the BSUF is not required to have open records or follow a public-bidding or award process for its design & construction efforts. For at least two of the projects the BSUF built for BSU’s use, it required a “pre-qualification” for any general contractor wanting to bid on the projects – which entailed a minimum $50K “donation” to the projects. A hefty ante to play the game, but good luck to any reporter who can get one of the contractors to go on record (and since the BSUF is a private company, no freedom of information act request can force the foundation to cough up the files).

    The BSUF did purchase the 150-acre mint farm which is now the west campus, but it sold the land to the State Board of Education (for $1.6M) before any design or construction. BSU, in turn, leased the land to a tenant-farmer until it was ready to build roads on the property. I’m still waiting to find out how this land (and improvements) will be turned over to a Community College District’s Board of Trustees, with no money changing hands.

    Now, since the State Board owns the Bronco Stadium (which is leased to the Boise School District for East’s track program), and not the BSUF – how exactly will the foundation be made whole in this deal? If the $67K/year value will be written off until the land-cost differential is made up (I’ll trust your 45-year figure), it only means that the State Board agrees to waive rent payments during this period, not that it agrees to pay the foundation $67K/year. (ED NOTE–we understand it the same way)

    You might be missing a part of the puzzle.

    If the Bronco Athletic Association (another private non-profit organization) is involved it might provide closure in the financing gap. The BAA raises money (through donations and athletic event ticket sales) for sports scholarships AND to build some sports facilities (mostly for football, but not exclusively). If the BAA takes ownership of the East Junior High site and builds a state-of-the-art track facility on the land, it could donate the value of a lease to the Boise School District (but I bet the yearly value of the lease will peg a lot higher than $67K). Since the BAA has a bricks & mortar component in its charter (unlike the BSUF, which is supposed to be for education & scholarships only) then the gap could be closed.

    Both the BAA and the BSU Athletics Department have been wanting to free up the stadium for football-only for a while, the East Junior High site could provide the perfect opportunity. And, a new facility would go a long way towards helping solicit some more lucrative NCAA track hosting events.

    My advice to the State Board of Education, and the Boise School District, is to stay out of this mess until the dust settles. But this is just wishful thinking on my part, when Board members in both camps fancy themselves land barons. Someone’s going to get hurt in this deal – although Board members’ reputations may be tarnished, it’s the taxpayer who will ultimately suffer the real hurt.

    If the Boise School District believes that its student population distribution is changing and the East Junior High site is no longer in an ideal location, it should buy property & build a school where it thinks it will best serve students – and then sell the current site on the open market. It can use any “wind fall” from the sale to pay down any bond debt it might incur in the new construction.

    This is a lot better for students and families than having to bus Junior High tracksters from a new school, back to the old school’s location for every practice and track event. It seems that the families and students concerns always get the short end of the stick (or baton) in such deals.

    EDITOR NOTE–George, thank-you for your insight! The GUARDIAN agrees with you. Nice job.

  4. Great job digging into this one as usual. How do they come up with this crap?

  5. I was thinking the same thing Cyclops. Condition of approval for Harris Ranch expansion: allow the school to proceed.

  6. Stupid on the City of Boise for allowing Brighton to proceed on a promise(note failed bridge) to work out the location for a donated elementary land. Smart of Brighton to get the tax benefit for donating back on the BSU purchase. And just plain silly on BSU and Boise Schools for purchasing the parcel with deed restrictions and thinking they could change it later.

    Dave Bieter last year was a champion of schools when the big bond was passed. Now Team Dave is championing Brighton’s right to develop this property at the expense of the schools. GO DAVE

  7. I’m confused. This deal was supposed to RESULT in a school being built on the property. Now, we learn that the property has a covenant preventing construction of a school?!?!

    Hold on! Who did this? This sounds like fraud. I mean, it’s nuts! Can someone explain this???

  8. Who cares if there is a provision that blocks a school on the property or not? If Harris Ranch won’t wave their right to block it, the school district can condemn the property with eminent domain. Harris Ranch can not prevent a school from being built on the property any more than you can keep ACHD from purchasing some/all of your property for right-of-way.

    Great comment by Curious. Maybe you can comment on something. My understanding was that the BSU Foundation wasn’t getting the entire EJHS property. Just the part of the property around the track.

  9. The BSU Foundation is allot like the CCDC – it is a means for the University to do things WAY outside the govening process of the Board of Ed. – -sorta like the City does with the CCDC. And it is a great way to get around public records laws and audits.

    It is just more “creative” money swapping, spending and influnence.

  10. Didn’t the University of Idaho try some “creative” stuff like this and they lost $20 million bucks and people got sued?

  11. Why? Why are there all these so-called “creative financing schemes?”

    People don’t just do these things to rile-up the BoiseGuardian and its cadre. So why?

    Could it be that the whole system is broken? Could it be Idaho’s government is an archaic anachronism?

  12. curious george
    May 23, 2007, 9:56 pm

    The University of Idaho got into trouble because it conceded to the UofI Foundation’s request to cover millions of dollars in accrued debt. There wasn’t anything illegal with the foundation going into debt (it was just stupid), but when the university gave public funds to cover that debt (without State Board approval) the law was broken. Then most everyone involved tried to cover up the illegal transaction.

    Honestly speaking, the State does such a poor job in project management (design contracting, bidding, and construction oversight) that it bleeds tax money whenever it tries to build something. This isn’t the fault of state employees, who are more than qualified to manage capital construction projects. The blame rests squarely with the myriad oversight committees every politician insists on being in place. At every critical juncture in a project, the project teams are required to bundle up all the project information and present it to these committees for “review” – never mind that the politicians on these committees wouldn’t know a T-square from a backhoe.

    If it’s frustrating for the project teams, imagine if you are a major contributor to a public building. Every such “review” creates project delays, which translate directly into cost overruns – can you imagine how a donor feels when the gifted money is wasted so a technocrat can feel like they’ve done their job.

    It is out of this frustration that scholarship foundations have been co-opted to serve as “advancement” foundations. Turning such organizations into bricks-and-mortar non-profit corporations is a bad idea, but many local donors won’t gift capital funds if they know that the State will be managing the project.

    The difference between these foundations and an urban renewal agency is the level of transparency. URA’s have a number of checks and balances written into their governance structures, whether these are followed is another question. But, non-profit foundations have no such parallel structure – and the temptation to violate ethical conduct is very great (University Place being just one example). And when these temptations are spread out over a board (which knows that it’s actions are cloaked in secrecy), very bad things tend to happen (especially when large potential donors sit on these same boards).

  13. Mr. Guardian

    where did you get from the Statesman’s article that the foundation was involved?

    EDITOR NOTE–NOT from the Statesman. We did additional reporting as mentioned at the outset. The deal is indeed with the BSU Foundation.

  14. The litigation intrigues me. I’ve seen no mention of the District actually coming into ownership. So how do they have the power of eminent domain? Seems very contingent to me. And if the Court rules they don’t have the power and the litigation fails does Brighton lose their tax write off? I assume they got the write off for donating to an educational institution. Will that lead to more litigation?

    If they do have the power, then what they seek to do is to pay the fair market price for the property’s highest and best use without the restrictions less, I assume, the amount they already paid. In other words, the district is asking a jury to make an award of damages to the Harris family for the district’s intentional (and arguably malicious since there is other property available) interference with their private property rights and upsetting their development plans when they could have just negotiated a simple fair market value to begin with. Sounds like a very risky course of action.

    Who is the attorney for the District?

    Gman, Mr. Bond makes a good point. The restrictive covenants from what I read don’t blatantly prohibit a school but rather any proposed use of the land is subject to the approval of the Harris family. I understand that they said no to a school upon inquiry but I think its overstating to say or imply that the district purchased a deed for land that prohibited a school. (Ed note-school and Harris have been negotiating since January and Harris has said NO SCHOOL and is defending their right to prohibit the use.)

    Isn’t a condition of approval for this development that the Harris family accomodate a school? Maybe that was just an elementary school.

    George you are a wealth of information. I agree that we are likely to take it in the shorts again on this one.

  15. Wow. Lots of cloak and dagger in this issue! One addendum to the report from Curious George about the ability of the BSU Foundation to build buildings without using the bid process. I noticed the other day that the new building under construction at BSU (which I think is a foundation project) identifies DeBest Plumbing as one of the primary subcontractors — as it has been with the other foundation-funded buildings lately. DeBest is owned, of course, by BSU booster Milford Terrell who, coincidentally, is the current president of the State Board of Education.

    So … anyone give me odds on the possibility that the SBOE would ever look closely at the deals being dealt by the BSU Foundation or Boise Athletic Association (both to which Terrell is also closely tied)? Also, I’m thinking the Boise School District’s notice that it intends to sue the Harris family for use of the site is a required first step in the condemnation proceedings that would overrule the desire to keep a junior high off that property. Is that thought correct?

  16. Good job, Guardian!

    The Harris Ranch fiasco is but the latest in a series of fiascos that has plagued this bond issue.

    We’ve seen the proposed new elementary site near Borah High fall through (another “deal”), the Harris Ranch site is dependent on its “deal” happening, and the Cole School deed restriction hadn’t been settled before the bond election even though the District claimed it would use proceeds from the Cole site land sale to offset new school construction costs.

    The proposed Harris Ranch site is hemmed in by the foothills to the north, Warm Springs Avenue on the south, Harris Ranch and Golden Dawn Estates to the west, and more development potential property to the east. It also may sit very close to a 100 year flood plain. Surely there must be a better junior high school site in the area than the proposed one.

    The District’s own documents show that it originally planned to outright purchase a junior high site in the Harris Ranch area. A specific location was not mentioned. Somewhere along the way (during the bond campaign if I recall correctly) the District and the BAA (or BSUF) developed a “partnership” and the current plan was hatched. We go from simple to complex. So another question is what happened to the millions of dollars the District “saved” by entering into this “partnership.”

    Still another question is why the District is purchasing a 20 acre site for a junior high school when the District standard for Les Bois, Riverglen, and the relocated West Junior High has been 30 acres. A number of times in the past the District has partnered with Parks and Rec to have joint use parks built next to the school to gain additional acreage. That doesn’t seem to be an option this time.

    Since the District has the opportunity to review, comment, and, if its wishes, impose conditions (my sources tell me it rarely does) on each development proposal in its jurisdiction, one has to wonder where on the original Harris Ranch site plan, and the changes thereto, schools were proposed and why those plans are not being followed.

    I’m told that under the original Harris Ranch plan, an elementary school site was designated on the south side of Warm Springs. My sources tell me that other school sites were indicated on those initial plans and that there has been some site renegotiations since the original development plans were filed. If someone (Guardian?) has the interest, they might check the original filings with the City and/or County or the school district to see where the sites were proposed.

    One must wonder about the District’s competence to plan for new schools. The District has failed both its taxpayers and the children this time by failing to nail down some significant details (like property ownership) before going to the people for a bond issue. In the past it has held property for many years before constructing new schools (think Timberline and Riverglen) with bond monies.

    As par for the course, the District continues to march forth with its usual arrogance and lack of planning because there are plenty of tax dollars to cover mistakes. All the while proclaiming there is not enough money for the classroom.

    It’s time for more scrutiny of the school district but don’t count on the Daily or other media to do that. At least we can count on the Guardian.

    Sis – I’m with you. I’m not an attorney, but I have to wonder how the District can sue the Harris family when another party appears to own the land. Perhaps this is part of the posturing to get the restriction lifted as Stephen seems to suggest or it might be part of a breach of contract made when Harris Ranch first started to develop. Not to worry though, the District has plenty of our tax dollars to pay for all this. Board minutes for the April 9, 2007 meeting ( seem to indicate that a John King and a Mike Ballantyne might be attorneys for the District.

    Stephen, you raise good points about the subcontracting work. It might be interesting to see how the State Board of Ed was involved with any of those buildings, to what extent, and how the Board members voted on those buildings and the contracts affecting those buildings.

  17. Ed U Kate

    Just a fyi
    Mike Ballantyne is not an Lawyer, He is a real estate agent that works for Thornton Oliver Keller, that does most of the work for …. yep your right Brighton.

  18. I looked at the deed of acquisition for the property. It was transferred from Brighton Investments LLC to “The State of Idaho, by and through the State Board of Education c/o Boise State University”

    There doesn’t appear to be any involvement by the Boise State Foundation in the land deal so far. It also seems that the SBOE is involved so that Bogeyman can be put to rest.

    EDITOR NOTE–Thanks for the research Blue. We fixed the reference. One of our sources obviously provided bad info.

  19. OK, I have to bring it up for the umpteenth time: why do schools have to have 20 or 30 acres of land? I pass by Riverglen on a regular basis and there is never anyone on the grounds, which, by the way,have to be watered and mowed. When I went to Boise High School it was surrounded by houses, not acres of mostly unused property, like it is now. Athletes went over the the Boise School Fields which are behind the East Junior High.

    When did we change to this model of having large acreage surrounding schools which we not only have to pay to keep green, but which are taken off the tax rolls?

  20. The “look and smell” of this deal is just the Editor’s breath and reflection in the mirror. Go ahead and stifle my free speech Dave and squash my opinion. You haven’t yet been able to connect Mayor Bieter with this deal. YOU are a Dave Bieter hater – admit it!

  21. Porcupine

    Thanks for the info. Always nice to know who the players are. Guess that narrows the attorney for the District down to John King. Ballantyne must have been invited to the Executive Session which was “… for the purpose of discussing matters pertaining to property and negotiations.”


    I’m told the amount of land needed varies by the type of school – elementary, junior high, or high school. I believe that amount is determined by education administrators. Since they are education administrators we mere mortals must not question them. They obviously know best because they are education administrators. Just ask them. And before someone clobbers me about knocking educators, for the record, I know the folks at the school building level are doing an excellent job. In many cases, school administrators are another matter.

    My sources tell me the Boise School District now strives for 10 acres at the elementary level, about 30 for junior highs, and 40 to 50 for senior highs.

    Yes, that’s up from your days at Boise High but consider that most high schools now have both student and faculty – staff parking lots plus athletic fields. Boise High does not have student parking lots, the faculty – staff lots are pretty limited, and there are some athletic facilities but baseball teams (and perhaps other teams) have to use other facilities for practice. Having athletic facilities at the school means they can be used for PE classes and the kids don’t have to be bussed somewhere for practices which helps reduce costs and the administrative hassle of moving the kids.

    My sources also tell me that most school fields are open to public use so they act as de facto parks in some neighborhoods. Also, those green areas help provide a buffer against future encroachments. Encroachments are a problem whether it’s the Foothills, an airport, or a school.

    Lastly, newer elementary schools are almost double the size of the older schools such as Washington and Longfellow. From a purely physical basis they need more land. Parking lots for parents and staff factor in at this level also as do off street loading zones for school buses.

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