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Eldred to acquire school building

Published July 03. 2014 04:00PM

At Wednesday night's Eldred Township supervisors' meeting, Supervisor Chairman Gretchen Gannon Pettit and Supervisor/secretary Sharon Solt voted "yes" to acquire Eldred Elementary School from the Pleasant Valley School District. Supervisor vice Chairman Mary Ann Clausen voted "no."

Before the vote, the supervisors spoke to about 25 people in attendance.

Gannon Pettit said that everyone knows she was in favor of acquiring it.

"I know there may be downfalls, but we will check into everything before we actually acquire it," she said.

Clausen said that everyone has been thinking about it a lot. One of her concerns is the reverter issue, saying that at some point, the school district could take the school back if it needs it, but if the township wanted the district to take the school back, it doesn't have to. Once the township owns it, it can't ever sell it. If the township puts money into the building for improvements, the district doesn't have to reimburse the township if it reverts back to the district. The township can't tear the building down.

She then addressed some of her other concerns. She didn't think there would be enough use to cover the cost if it became a community center, plus she didn't think the township needed another community center because it already has the firehouse, and Mock Park will eventually have the Mock home and renovated barn. Renovating the school as an urgent care center is cost prohibitive.

"Our suggestions for its use are pie in the sky. Even the YMCA as a tenant only brings in $475 a month, $5,600 a year. It doesn't want to make a long-term commitment. I contacted the Monroe County Area Agency on Aging to ask if they might be interested in having an office in the school, and they told me no. We don't know the cost of heating for last year's hard winter. There's the issue of asbestos, installing air conditioning ... all costly.

"If we became landlords for offices, we'd need to hire a building manager, and if a community center, we'd need to hire someone to be there. Would we need to increase township taxes to support it? These are all the negatives.

"I understand the allure of having the property next to us, but I'd like to see a task force formed and get the school district to give us two to three more months. We need a business plan. We need to look into what is practical and what isn't practical," she said.

"The next school board meeting is Thursday, July 17, and we should all go and ask questions. If not, then tell the district we want the ball field. Maybe we can do some negotiating. If we look at what's being offered now, it's all speculative, and I don't think that's the job of the township to be speculative," Clausen said.

Solt said, "Who would have thought 15 years ago we would have a codes and zoning officer, a tax office, a historical society, a park and recreation committee or a Veterans' Commission. But we have them now. We need to be forward thinking. Currently the township's office space is utilized, and as time moves forward so does the need for additional amenities. The school could be an extension of our municipal building."

Solt said the school could be used for community organizations such as boys and girls' clubs, 4-H clubs, a senior center or an artist classroom, which would occupy space with little or no renovation costs. Some inquiries have been made by a newly formed church and a ladies' boutique.

She said if the township did accept the district's offer, there must be an agreement of sale, with conditions attached such as providing the township with a copy of the appraisal, with dollar amounts redacted but listing any potential problems for the building.

"The township should have our engineering firm examine the building and supply us with a report of their findings. An ultrasound test of the underground tank is the safest way to determine the thickness of the walls as well as any potential problems. I believe there should be an adequate period of time to gather this additional information before there is a closing date set. Should the investigation not be favorable, then the board could choose to decline the offer," she said.

She read a letter from an anonymous resident who supports acquiring the school and would make a $10,000 donation toward its upkeep.

Solt said if the township acquired the school for a $1, she urged those who are supporters to donate to the project, "Whether it be in time, or as in this case, dollars."

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