LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools is eyeing the long-vacant former Passport Health Plan site in west Louisville for a middle school.

A document prepared in advance of Tuesday night's school board meeting shows an outline of the roughly 20-acre site at Broadway and 18th Street under the label "New Middle School in West Louisville."

The district's interest could breathe new life into a prominent site that Louisville officials managed to fully privatize over 20 years despite its lack of development, as WDRB News detailed in a story last month.

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The most recent plan for the site stalled in 2019 when Passport Health Plan abruptly stopped construction on a headquarters building, leaving a four-story steel frame to rust.  

JCPS spokeswoman Carolyn Callahan confirmed that Superintendent Marty Pollio would like to build a middle school on the former Passport site, though Callahan could not elaborate on whether the district is in talks to acquire the site or on what terms.

"Right now, it's a site we're interested in," she told WDRB News in an email Tuesday.

The middle school would be just across Dixie Highway from an elementary school the district is building just south of the new Republic Bank Foundation YMCA branch at Broadway and 17th Street. The elementary school is scheduled to open in 2023.

Molina Healthcare, a California health insurance company that entered Kentucky in recent years, has had an agreement for nearly two years to purchase the west Louisville site. Molina's involvement stems from its acquisition of the remnants of the Passport organization in 2020.

Pollio told members of the Jefferson County Board of Education during a Tuesday meeting that the district is in talks with Molina about purchasing the remaining land after the insurance company builds a new facility on the 25-acre plot.

"Molina is very interested in that," Pollio said. "They are closing on the sale of the property in the next four to six weeks, and we should be able, hopefully, to get right into negotiations with them and bring you a contract agreement very soon to build our new middle school in west Louisville."

Molina confirmed last month that it is still on track to acquire the property, saying it plans a "community focused" development. Molina did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Virginia-based Evolent Health, which purchased the site in May for about $12.5 million, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 2020 deal, in which Evolent sold the Passport brand and other assets to Molina, called for Molina to eventually purchase the west Louisville site from Evolent.

If JCPS were required to buy the site from Evolent or Molina, it would mean Louisville taxpayers paying to acquire a piece of property they once owned.

Philip Morris donated the site to the old city of Louisville in 2002 after it closed a cigarette factory it had operated for decades.

Then-Mayor Jerry Abramson's administration gave the site to a company formed by local construction businesspeople Frank and Teresa Bridgewaters, who paid to demolish the cigarette factory buildings.

The Bridgewaterses sold part of the land to neighboring Brown-Forman for $1.2 million in 2010. In 2013, Mayor Greg Fischer's administration gave their company $1.1 million to purchase more property around the site to allow for a Walmart SuperCenter, which was announced in 2014.

Walmart backed out of the deal in 2017. Then in 2018, Passport, a locally grown nonprofit that administers Medicaid coverage for low-income Kentuckians, said it would build a headquarters and "health and well-being campus" on the site.

Passport paid the Bridgewaterses' company $7.1 million for the land, but the organization quickly ran into financial problems and was shuffled from Evolent to Molina in a pair of fire sales in 2019 and 2020.

As WDRB reported last month, an organization containing the remnants of Passport paid the Bridgewaterses' company another $2.27 million in January to settle a claim from their 2018 real estate sale to Passport.

The settlement cleared the way for Evolent, and eventually Molina, to take control of the site.

WDRB education reporter Kevin Wheatley contributed to this report.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2022. WDRB Media. All rights reserved.