Written by HAROLD BROWN and MARIE THOMAS Sentinel Staff Writers
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 08:48
Bowling Green's Board of Education this morning agreed to sell the Ridge Street school property to the city for $22,500, hours after city council unanimously approved the purchase.
The city plans to demolish the building and use the finished site as parkland.
Council did hear from two opponents of the purchase.
Sue Clark, director of the Bowling Green Community Development Foundation, and Erica Sleek, North Prospect Street, both asked council to slow down its pursuit of the property.
"I have talked to a number of clients interested in purchasing Ridge School. None are to use it for apartments but for viable businesses that would comply with current zoning. I have been working with one for 18 months," Clark said. "They have had an architect and a contractor go through the building, believe it is structurally sound and can be retrofitted to meet their needs."
Clark said the business would have 15 to 20 employees and generate $10,000 a year in city income tax.
"My job is to advocate for business. This makes that difficult to do when you send this message. I urge you to slow this process and seek input from the entire community. This board recently established a historical preservation board, yet tonight you want to tear down a historical and viable building with many years of life."
Sleek said she was working on plans to establish a charter school in the building. "Just take a minute on this, maybe me or someone else will purchase this (building) and leave it up." Sleek confirmed she was one of the people who had been talking with Clark.
The school board voted 4-0 this morning to approve the sale. Board President Ellen Scholl was absent.
Superintendent Ann McVey said she has talked with the city on and off, but the district was required to first offer the property to a charter school. Any interested party had 60 days to make an offer, she explained.
A person, whom she did not name, had expressed interest and toured the building with an architect, but did not make an offer within the 60-day window.
Board member Lee Hakel stated a rumor was floating that the potential buyer was not aware of the 60-day limit, which McVey said was not the case.
When no charter school came forward, the board's next step was to put the property up for auction. A Sept. 30 auction date was set, but was delayed in mid-September when the city expressed interested.
When the ordinance came up for consideration by council Monday night, First Ward rep Daniel Gordon said he "values and supports local business but the chief aim of our office is to be responsive to our constituents and advocate for them. Families told me they were disheartened that the only public play-space for children in the First Ward would no longer exist. The message that I heard over and over again was that we needed to act, and, given the auction deadline, we needed to act quickly.
"A neighborhood park is likely to have a number of additional positive benefits. It will improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood, and is likely to attract new homeowners and retain current homeowners. Property values and home marketability will likely increase. And while children will continue to have a place to play, older residents - student and non-student alike - will have a place to meet, socialize, and maintain and sustain good relations. Overall, a Ridge Street park will improve the quality of life for First Ward residents and the Bowling Green community as a whole," Gordon said.
"Old school buildings have a poor track record of remaining viable when let go of by a school system. I have a hard time envisioning this would be any different," At-Large rep Bruce Jeffers said.
At-large rep Sandy Rowland said the city's plans are community development. "The value of green space is important to economic development. As a Realtor I know that property values in the First and Second wards have gone down. This will make the area more welcoming."
Rowland also said that for each student the city schools lose to another school, they are required to pay that school $5,000. "People do not understand. We may make $10,000 in income taxes but our community would be losing out."
Fourth Ward rep Robert Piasecki said there would be no guarantee that Ms. Sleek would be the highest bidder. "This is not 'us vs. Erica.' Our concern is that something else might happen to the property and this is the only way to make sure the property meets most of the needs of the community."
At-Large rep Robert McOmber said he initially "had some qualms about the purchase," as did the city administration. McOmber said the fact there is no public park in the northeast quadrant of the city was a deciding factor for him.
"Obviously I'd like to get as much for that property that we can," said McVey said this morning.
She pointed out the selling price is similar to that of Milton School, which sold at auction for $23,000.
"We felt it was a fair price," she stated.
The funds from the sale will go into the district's permanent improvement fund.
Board member Steven Cernkovich said he was hoping the property would have a good community use.
"It's a pretty happy outcome," he said.
McVey said the district incurred between $1,600 and $2,000 in advertising costs for the auction, from newspaper advertisements to fees paid to Wilson Auction for the sale sign and online advertising.
Council also approved legislation to finance the purchase and demolition with a $200,000 note that will be repaid from the general fund.
Another ordinance to dedicate 20 feet on the west side of the property as public right-of-way was given its first reading. City officials have indicated the ordinance is needed to provide residents of the 400 block of North Prospect Street with access to their garages at the rear of their properties, which abut the school property.
That alley currently is part of the school property.