Within five years, Madison School District administrators could be running the district from a new home as a master planning document recommends the sale of the 80-year-old Doyle Administration Building in Downtown.
A draft version of the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan calls for moving out of the Doyle Administration Building and selling the 2.65-acre property in the next five years. The property, 545 W. Dayton St., holds the two-story, landmark-designated Doyle building and part of a parking lot shared with UW-Madison.
“The Doyle building is so old that attempting to repair or refurbish it would be less cost effective than moving to a new location,” the plan says. “It is time to begin the process to move from the Doyle building to a different location.”
According to the plan, initial interest suggests the property could be worth between $5 million and $15 million. Because the building is tax-exempt, the city of Madison does not assess its value.
The plan suggests that within the next two years, the district begin to identify potential buyers for the building and search for a new location that “meets our operational and instructional support needs, has sufficient parking, is near public transportation, and is somewhat centrally located.”
The building — renamed in 1990 for longtime board member and state Rep. Ruth Bachhuber Doyle, mother of former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle — holds offices for the district’s administrative team, human resources, finance, research, and curriculum and instruction departments, among other employees. It is also where the Madison School Board usually meets for monthly meetings.
According to the facilities plan, the district has concerns with the building’s safety, ventilation, and heating and cooling system.
Ald. Mike Verveer, who represents the area, said he would be disappointed if the district eventually moved its administrative offices out of Downtown, but said he recognizes “that they do hold valuable property there.”
Given the location, Verveer said he thinks potentially interested purchasers could be the university, a developer looking to build student-oriented housing or the city of Madison for park space since the neighborhood is largely deprived of open land.
The recommendation is part of the larger Long Range Facilities Plan, which the School Board is slated to vote on at its July 29 meeting.
Overall, the 33-page plan acts as a guiding document for the district’s facilities needs. It lays out what the priority projects should be, including a potential referendum in 2020 that could be the first in a series to address infrastructure needs.
The referendum next year could focus on major renovation and repair work at the district’s four comprehensive high schools, potentially running as high as $280 million.
It also could include money to find space for some of the district’s alternative programs and to build a new elementary school in the Moorland Road neighborhood south of the Beltline, where students residing now often have to take long bus rides to get to school.
District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson called the possible sale of the Doyle building a small piece of a plan that prioritizes students and families.
“Before that would ever come to fruition, the big focus will be on the referendum and school plans,” she said.
District officials plan to solicit public input on a potential referendum in the late summer and fall.
Designed by Madison architect John Flad and constructed in 1939, the Doyle building opened as the Washington Grade and Orthopedic School. Its design was influenced by the art moderne architectural style, which emphasizes long, horizontal lines and curving edges.
Elements of the school building were meant to accommodate children with disabilities, such as an elevator, ramps to the gymnasium and lunch room, and a “cubicle for ultraviolet treatment,” according to a local landmark nomination form filed in 1996.
“I do believe that that building, which does have the unique architectural style, is absolutely worth preserving,” said Verveer, who served on the City Council at the time.
The Doyle building received local landmark status in 1999, despite opposition from the Madison School Board arguing the designation could devalue the property.
Some of the building’s innovative and decorative elements were removed when administrative uses began in 1963, district officials said at the time.
“It limits what we can do with this,” then-School Board member Deborah Lawson said in 1996 about landmark status. “If someday we want to sell this, we could lose a lot of money.”
Kyle Bunnow, the plan review and inspection supervisor for the city of Madison, said the property is zoned for up to a 10-story building, which is the height of the nearby student-focused Lark at Kohl apartment building, but the “opportunities for redevelopment are probably pretty limited because it’s a landmark.”
The parking lot behind the Doyle building, though, has been eyed by UW-Madison as a possible site for redevelopment.
Jointly owned by the district and university, the parking lot is adjacent to the Kohl Center and heavily used during sporting and entertainment events there. The university’s campus master plan, updated in 2015, recommends the surface lot be turned into a new above-ground parking garage and “art instruction space.”
Steve Wagner, spokesman for UW-Madison’s Facilities Planning and Management, said the university has no timeline on when that project might be pursued.
“The university has no current plans to purchase the Doyle Administration Building,” he said. “However, we do monitor the availability of parcels that abut the campus boundary should they become available in the future.”