Council turns down elementary school
By Fran Odyniec
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the Plain City Village Council decided to pass on the Jonathan Alder School District’s offer to purchase the old Plain City Elementary School on West Main Street.
During the council’s work session of Tuesday evening, Feb. 21, the school district’s offer was on the agenda for discussion in an attempt to move to a consensus on accepting the offer.
As submitted to the council, the offer was for the village to purchase the building for $550,000 at no interest over a 20-year period in payments of $25,000 each year. An escape clause would allow the village to back out of the deal if at some point it would be unable to continue with payments. If the village were forced to exercise the escape clause, under conditions of the purchase contract, the school district would refund all money paid by the village up to that point. The purchase price included a down payment of $50,000.
The goal of council if it had acquired the building would have been to centralize all village offices at that location and to have space in hand in anticipation of the village becoming a city. In the 2010 U.S. Census, the village population is at 4,225. To be considered a city, a village must reach a population of 5,000.
“The distinct is disappointed,” said Jonathan Alder Local Schools Superintendent Gary Chapman on Friday afternoon of the village’s decision, “especially with all the time and effort that had been put into it. We thought we were pretty close.”
Chapman said that the Alder school board will need to determine next steps regarding the future of the old elementary school.
“We have to move forward,” Chapman continued. “We will continue to explore options to best utilize the property.”
“We understand the historical and sentimental value of the property,” he said. “We also realize that the board has fiscal accountability to the school district.”
At the council work session, Mayor Sandra Adkins commented that to construct a new municipal building would cost millions. She told council that if the old elementary school building were purchased by the village, there would have been phased-in department relocations and building renovations.
Council member Kevin Vaughn opened discussion by stating, “I cannot support this, if we are going to occupy only half-a-building. Given economic conditions, I’d hate to put ourselves in a financial situation to get this done.”
Council member Shawn Kaeser asked, “Is there a great need to centralize? I don’t like spending money that has to come out of the village general fund, not to mention the pool, and we have the debt on the water plant.”
While Kaeser said that the school is in a “great location, it has the potential to be a money pit.”
Mayor Adkins said, “We have payments for the plant through the end of the year, but there is a concern on spending.”
Council member Doug Saxour made the motion to go forward with the purchase, but, due to a lack of support from council, no one seconded the motion which would have brought it to a vote.
Saxour, who was in favor of acquiring the building, said after the meeting, “We did our homework. If we had purchased it, it didn’t mean we would recklessly spend money on that building. We would only renovate in phases.”
However, he indicated that he would not be satisfied if the building remains vacant, given the downtown revitalization efforts of council and the Uptown Plain City Organization.
“It could potentially cost more to rehabilitate the longer it sits vacant,” he said.
Saxour added that he has directed a party interested in purchasing the building to speak with the Jonathan Alder school board.
“We don’t want hard feelings to exist between council and the school board,” Kaeser said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “It would be nice to have everything under one roof, but this is not the time to put so much money up front.”
“The school board has been very generous,” he continued. “At the same time, we’ve been elected to be stewards of Plain City’s dollars. This is not the right time.”
Contacted on Friday afternoon, Vaughn said of the financial terms of the purchase plan, “In the short time I’ve been on council, I hear each week that we’re sound but not exceptional in savings. The overall cost (of acquiring and renovating the school building) is not justifiable to me.”
On any concern that if the building remains vacant that it could have a less than desirable effect on the downtown district, Vaughn said. “I don’t think Jonathan Alder would allow that. They’re very good at what they do.”
He did not rule out that if it remained vacant for the rest of the year, that the village could become involved in helping to market the building.
“There’s been good financial responsibility,” he commented on the way the village has conducted its financial affairs. “We need to continue with that and proceed cautiously.”