Reflections on the Decision to Sell Our Building

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For Sale
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The Fontana Rehabilitation Workshop, Inc. dba Industrial Support Systems (ISS) is taking steps to relocate. For the past 20 years we have served between 150 and 200 individuals with disabilities by providing work-skills development and employment opportunities in Fontana, California. Making the decision to move has not been an easy one. Our current location consists of 45,000 square feet of warehouse/production space, 10,000 square feet of office space, and approximately 4 acres of land. It is a facility that has served us well.

However, California has faced a budget crisis for several years—and the state provides 68 percent of our income. We have seen reductions in our purchase of service dollars as well as statewide averaging of rates that forced us to close some of our services. As we move toward providing more community employment opportunities for the individuals we serve, we had to ask ourselves if we need this much space in order to provide quality services to our clients.

In preparing ourselves to make this decision, we took into consideration that we have reduced staff on two separate occasions, reduced wages by up to 10 percent (staff continue to contribute 5 percent of their earnings through continued wage reduction), as well as dropped medical coverage. We have also had to take into consideration that we are facing substantial costs in repairs to the facility (built in 1989) and to aging systems, i.e., air conditioning. The facility is a metal warehouse that does not appeal to the more discerning clients and their families, thus encouraging them to choose other programs that may take them further from their homes and outside the community in which they live. Our goal is to sell the current facility and purchase a rightsized, upgraded building, and be mortgage free.

The question was, “Is this possible?” The answer, “Yes!” A strong candidate for a buyer existed; a neighboring company had been expressing an interest in our building for the past two years.

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Our first step was to contact our possible buyer and see if they still had an interest. They did. Next, we contacted a commercial-real-estate agent and proposed our goal. Could we accomplish this? His response was it would be close, but it could be done. Then, we presented the information from our real estate agent and that we already had a possible buyer to our management team. Our management team’s concern was not in saving the current building but that, with the money saved from mortgage payments, we position ourselves for a solid future for our clients and staff as well as be able to fund the upkeep of a new facility. With a unanimous vote to move forward, goals were set and a presentation prepared for our board of directors.

Presenting to the board was not so easy. First we met with our board president, who was excited by the presentation and encouraged us to move forward with our proposal. Our first hurdle came when one of our members, who had been on the board when our current location was purchased, had difficulty envisioning that reducing building size and property would allow for growth in both business and program opportunities. Questions were asked about the type of building we were looking for, the square footage we were reducing to, and if we would remain within the city of Fontana, where we have been providing service since 1964. We were able to respond favorably to most of our board members’ questions. When a board member stated that relocating was what we needed to do, the motion to move forward was made and carried, with the board having final say in the purchase of the actual facility.

We have received favorable responses from our referral sources, with both stating that this would be a positive direction for ISS to make. Our only caution was to make sure public transportation would be accessible for those who needed it.

From the outset we have received nothing but encouragement for our decision to relocate. A peer executive director declared that this was one of the best things one could do for one’s staff and clients—that being a part of something new was a great morale booster.

With all this encouragement, we move forward. Rightsizing our facility will allow ISS to continue to provide the services and supports our clients need in order to work and live as independently as possible in their communities.


Sylvia Anderson is the Executive Director of the Fontana Rehabilitation Workshop, Inc.

  • Keenan Wellar

    I was hoping this story was less about responding to financial pressures and more about responding to a desire to put an end to “facilities” for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, but it sounds like things are moving in the right direction, even if the motivations are mixed in nature.

  • michael

    Two stories that relate:

    1) Two years ago I served as Coach to a Board President involved in planning a Capital Campaign. As we projected future space needs, trends in work-from-home and technology meant perhaps we didn’t need as many private office spaces as we have today. The plans were reworked to eliminate 1/3 of permanent offices in favor of open area workstations. This reduced total area square footage by 15% and construction costs by 9%.

    2) Two night ago I attended a Board meeting of a large nonprofit which built a huge new facility in the early 90s. Changes in funding (and technology) have reduced staff from 85 to 60, with vast majority of those reductions taking place in program management positions. As a result there is large chunks of unused space in the builiding….space that nonetheless must be maintained, heated, insured, etc.

    Bricks and Mortar are expensive. All nonprofit boards should be asking “Do we know enough about the future to invest in ownership, or should we opt for the flexibility of leasing?”