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Old Harrisburg Middle School could be new home for CAT

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The Harrisburg Board of School Directors voted unanimously Tuesday night on a preliminary plan to sell the site of the old Harrisburg Middle School to a developer interested in working out a deal with Capital Area Transit.

CAT managers have been interested in moving from their site on Cameron Street in Harrisburg for years but have struggled to find the money to do it.

The agency’s spokesman, Bob Philbin, said the site was built in 1904 as a hub for trolleys. It’s also located in a floodplain.

“When a flood hits the city, CAT’s priority is to move its vehicles out of the city. Instead of helping and getting engaged in the city, we’re actually moving vehicles out of the city,” said Philbin.

He said CAT’s Board of Directors is considering a proposal by Fine Lines Development Services, in which the private firm would buy the school district’s property. It would then fix it up and lease it CAT.

“Well, that remains to be seen, exactly how those new payments would be configured. And, that’s a fundamental question that our funding agencies, both counties and the cities will be looking at,” said Philbin, acknowledging the financial challenges CAT has faced in recent years.

School Board President Jennifer Smallwood said the developer is the only one she’s heard of that’s expressed interest in the district’s 42-acre vacant property on 1901 Wayne Ave. in Susquehanna Township.

As part of the district’s recovery plan, district leaders will be marketing vacant properties in an effort to pay down the district’s $437 million debt.

Tuesday’s vote is contingent on several things, such as the solicitor’s review and another appraisal of the property. The district’s Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno said he expected if the deal is finalized it would bring in over $1 million for the district. Other developers still can make offers on the property, Veno said.

Smallwood added, “This is not something that is going to be done overnight. It is a process.”

CAT’s spokesman said any deal between the developer and the school district does not require the transit agency to move. That’s a separate agreement that would have to be arranged by the transit agency’s Board of Directors, he said.

Philbin said his agency is seeking a public-private partnership of some kind, where a private developer would put up the capital for the project and would retain responsibility of the new facility until it’s eventually turned back over to CAT.

Any such arrangement would have to approved by a state board.