By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Oxford Community Schools closed on a $2.5 million deal to buy the former Dominican Sisters property on 775 W. Drahner Rd. in Oxford Township, late last month. The school board wasted no time starting improvements, approving $86,191 of network equipment and wireless access units at its regular meeting July 13.
The 32-acre campus includes the 57,860-square-foot Motherhouse with 43 bedrooms, and the 21,026-square-foot Retreat House. There are also three residential homes and a maintenance building.
For many years, the property housed the Dominican Sisters of Oxford, who later joined with the Dominican Sisters of Peace, members of the Catholic Order of Preachers. The property was put up for sale in late 2019, due to the aging and declining number of sisters living in the motherhouse.
The school district became interested after another offer fell through. Superintendent Tim Throne said the property was appealing because it is “centrally located” and could house some of the district’s current programing, with potential for expansion.
The purchase was made through the Capital Project Fund. “Every year we’ve tried to put some money in that (fund) for situations just as this that may come along,” Throne said back in March, when the school board authorized the district to make the purchase, subject to a due diligence period.
No definite plan has been made or approved for the facility, but a property evaluation conducted by the district recommends the three residential homes and retreat house be demolished, and recommends renovations in the motherhouse, the main building.
“It would take substantial renovation to bring the three existing residential buildings up to business level and/or educational use codes,” the report stated. “It is recommended that these structures be demolished.”
Dedicated in 1998, the motherhouse is newer than the other buildings. According to the report, the main building is in overall good shape, architecturally. “The interior finishes (carpet and paint) are adequate but should be updated to give the facility a fresh start and to align the space with the Oxford Community Schools brand,” it stated.
The mechanical systems are near their end of life and will need replacing within the next few years. The building is operating off a water well, and will need to be connected to the township water system.
The evaluation identified five potential programs that could occupy parts of the main building. The first is district administration, currently located in a downtown Oxford storefront at 10 N. Washington St. The evaluation identified a potential 15,000 square feet that could serve as private district offices, conference rooms, a break room and reception.
The other potential programs are Oxford Bridges High School (currently located at Oxford Middle School), Oxford Early Learning Center (currently located at Oxford Elementary), LOFT (Learning Opportunities For Tomorrow, a post high school special education program currently located at Oxford High School) and Oxford Virtual Academy (currently located in the Oxford Marketplace strip mall).
The evaluation goes on to suggest how the existing structure might be renovated to fit district uses. The “living units” that occupy a wing of the main level and the entire second level can be combined and converted for classroom or departmental office use. The existing kitchen and dining spaces need little renovation to serve as a school kitchen and cafeteria. Also, the chapel will need minor renovation to convert its use from a sanctuary to a board room.
“Overall, the condition of the site is good,” the report states in an executive summary. “There is ample space on the parcel of land for expansion of the existing buildings and parking lots, or for a new facility.”
Demolition of the residential homes and retreat house is estimated at $120,000. Renovations of the main building are estimated between $3 million and $5.6 million. The land will need to be re-zoned for educational and business use.
The property also contains a private cemetery with a perpetual easement, granting access and parking to the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The purchase agreement states that the Dominican Sisters shall be responsible for the maintenance, upkeep, and repair of the headstones, while Oxford Community Schools shall be responsible “for all other maintenance, upkeep, and repair of the Easement Parcels (including, without limitation, lawn mowing, trimming, weeding, mulching, gardening, illuminating, securing, paving and snow removal, as necessary).”
New network equipment
The property evaluation notes that “the telephone and data system equipment is in poor condition and will need immediate attention.”
The equipment purchase the board authorized will help set up phone and internet systems so the district can start using the building for office space right away, if needed. “There are just certain things we have to do no matter what,” Throne said.
“This will allow us to expand, but it will at least give us enough phones that we think we initially need . . . We’re trying to get some basic things done so if we need to move some people in and out, whatever, while working on the overall plan, we want to be able to take advantage of that too.”
No decision has been made to demolish the other buildings yet, but Throne said all investments will be in the main building for now.
“I’m excited that we’re getting started right away,” said Trustee Mary Hanser, glad the district did not buy the property merely to hold it. “It’s nice that we’re doing something. . . I think it’s great that we’re being proactive and using our resources.”