The Bozeman School Board is trying once again to find someone with good ideas and millions of dollars to save the historic East Willson school building by renovating it for some new use.

School Board trustees informally endorsed Tuesday the administration’s plan to advertise and seek letters of interest from public or private groups or individuals who would be willing to buy the building and fix it up.

People have three weeks to come forward, under a timetable laid out by Kevin Barre, school facilities director.

The deadline for submitting letters of interest is Sept. 14. Ideas would be brought to the School Board to discuss on Sept. 24. If any sound promising, the board would decide on Oct. 8 whether to request more concrete proposals on one or more ideas.

Barre said even without advertising, two out-of-state developers who read about East Willson in the Chronicle contacted the school district last year about converting it into low-income housing.

The 110-year-old red brick building on Bozeman’s Main Street is in poor shape and needs $6 million worth of work to bring it up to modern earthquake safety codes.

Trustees have called it a “grand, important, historic building,” but said they can’t spend money on East Willson that’s needed for educating kids.

The School Board sought development proposals a decade ago, and received proposals to turn the school into everything from a new City Hall to a library, low-income elderly apartments and a bed-and-breakfast inn. The School Board liked the City Hall idea, but in the end the city decided that wouldn’t work.

Trustee Dan Swanson said he’d like to advertise outside the state. Trustee Denise Hayman suggested contacting Bozeman developer Dab Dabney, who has built low-income housing.

In June, Comma-Q Architecture presented a report listing the options for East Willson. Doing nothing would cost at least $200,000 to install fire sprinklers, required by the fire marshal. Selling and disconnecting it from the 1937 Willson School could cost $282,000. Razing East Willson would cost $492,000.

Federal tax incentives could attract developers. There’s a 20 percent credit for historic preservation and another 20 percent if a building is used for low-income housing.

Interested parties will be asked to write about their proposals, their experience in renovation and financing, how much time they’d need, how they’d raise financing or grants, and how they’d compensate the school district, whether by long-term lease, purchase or a land swap.

Developers would also have to explain how their projects would be compatible with the community’s use of Willson Auditorium, school administration offices and downtown redevelopment plans.

East Willson is on the National Historic Register. It was originally built in 1902 as Gallatin County High School and the red-brick part extended in 1907. In 1937, the concrete Willson School was constructed and attached.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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