Acme Passes on Bertha Vos, Targets Ascom Building for Township Hall
By Beth Milligan | Dec. 5, 2023
Acme Township trustees have walked away from a potential deal with Traverse City Area Public Schools to purchase the former Bertha Vos Elementary School, citing repair costs that – when combined with the $600,000 purchase price – would have required an estimated $3 million investment to make the building usable. Trustees are now pursuing another option for a new township hall: purchasing the Ascom office building at 6100 US-31 North, a deal that could close by February.
Acme Township was in negotiations with TCAPS for months to purchase the 35,320-square-foot Bertha Vos building, with plans to convert the former school into a new township hall and community center. But as estimated repair costs escalated – $300,000 for a new roof, $500,000 for HVAC upgrades, additional internal and external redevelopment expenses – Acme eventually abandoned the plan, voting unanimously in November to end negotiations with TCAPS for the property.
Township Supervisor Doug White says he was approached this fall by the owners of the Ascom building (pictured) – located just two doors down from Acme’s existing township hall – with a proposal to sell the building to Acme. Township officials in October reviewed a comparison chart of the Bertha Vos building, Ascom building, and current township hall building in closed session (that chart has since been publicly released). Then, at the same recent meeting at which trustees decided to end negotiations for Bertha Vos, the board agreed to enter into a purchase agreement for the Ascom building for $695,000 – a price that also includes an additional vacant lot. Trustees will have more discussion about the building at their meeting tonight (Tuesday). Due diligence and inspections will continue over the coming weeks; if everything goes smoothly, Acme could close on the property on or before February 29.
The Ascom building is significantly smaller than Bertha Vos at 4,608 square feet (plus another 4,608 square-foot basement) – but is nearly double the size of the current township hall. Township Trustee Jean Aukerman says the board became increasingly convinced that amount of space was more “right-sized” for the township than Bertha Vos, where Acme Township would’ve needed multiple tenants or on-site partners to sustain the sprawling space.
“At Bertha Vos, we would always need renters or entities to be involved beyond us,” Aukerman says. “If the Ascom building goes through, we’re in control of the entire building. It’s our building.” Offering programming from community partners like Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse Area District Library, and the Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network was a key part of Acme’s original plan. But Aukerman says trustees have realized “community can be in a smaller building too.” Rather than having permanent dedicated space for outside organizations, Acme can host rotating classes and events from partners at the new township hall, Aukerman says. NMC, TADL, and GT County have all expressed interest in offering community programming at the Ascom building, she notes.
In addition to offering infrastructure amenities lacking at Bertha Vos – like air conditioning and newer HVAC systems – the Ascom building will allow Acme Township to fulfill its primary goal of expanding township meeting space at a lower price tag, township officials say. The township meeting room can only hold 43 people now; if 44 people show up – not a hard number to hit when controversial issues arise – “we have to shut the meeting down,” Aukerman says. That has required the township to secure other off-site locations for meetings when high-profile topics are on the agenda. The Ascom building will be able to double the township’s meeting capacity space, White says.
If Acme closes on the property, White estimates it will take a few months of minor interior renovations before township staff can move into the building. The basement will be primarily used for storage, though it offers space for additional future expansion, Aukerman says. Any existing business tenants on the site are on month-to-month leases and will have several months’ notice to vacate, she notes. Township officials will also need to decide what to do with the existing township hall. White says the top option is to lease the site to the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department to expand, though the details of that deal would still need to be drafted and approved by both boards.
As for Bertha Vos, TCAPS trustees agreed in October – spurred by stalled negotiations with Acme – to list the school on the market with Scott Hardy of Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors for $725,000. TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner tells The Ticker that trustees will get an update on the property listing directly from Hardy at next Monday’s meeting, “where we hope to have an offer that the board can consider.”
Photo credit: Doug White/Acme TownshipComment