February 2020

By Tina Richards

Chapman University and the Orange Unified School District have entered into a purchase agreement for the sale of the Killefer School site for $3.7 million.

The district originally accepted bids on the 1.7-acre property in 2014. At that time, Chapman was outbid by four other potential buyers. The high bidder, the Olson Company, planned to demolish the building and put in townhouses.

The schoolhouse, however, came with a history too important to dismiss. Killefer was the first school to voluntarily desegregate in 1944, years before federal legislation made it mandatory.  Built in 1931 in Spanish mission revival style, it is also an architectural gem, as most of its original detail remains intact. The Old Towne Preservation Association moved quickly to get the structure placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

High bidders balk
Olson walked away from the deal after the building earned its historic designation and was, therefore, protected from demolition. The second highest bidder, Western States Housing, tried to work around the structure, but it, too, abandoned its plans in 2018. 

The next bidders in line, also developers, subsequently withdrew their offers; Chapman stepped up to the plate.

“We’ve been interested in this site for a long time,” Jack Raubalt, Chapman’s vice president of community relations, told the board at its Jan. 16 meeting. “We’re going to restore the building to its original glory. We plan to use it for educational purposes and recognize its cultural impacts.  We don’t know yet what academic program will go in there, but it will be beautiful to put it back the way it was. That’s all we have at this point, but we recognize the significance of this building.”

Trustee Kathy Moffat noted that the district had previously worked with the family of Lorenzo Ramirez, one of the plaintiffs in the 1947 lawsuit that ultimately ended school segregation, and researched Killefer’s role in the early civil rights movement. “We’re happy to share that research with you,” she said. 

“The community will be delighted to hear what you’re going to do.” 

Because the building is historic, an environmental site analysis will be completed prior to finalizing the sale. Following the evaluation and purchase, a renovation timeline will be established.  The goal is to honor Killefer’s history in a way that will allow public access, as well as accommodate academic programs.

“I’m happy to hear it is going to be used for educational purposes again,” Trustee Alexia Deligianni-Brydges said. “If anybody can restore it, it’s Chapman.”

The board vote to approve the transaction was unanimous.

OUSD signs purchase agreement with Chapman to buy Killefer