Bennett wins bid for Shull-David property
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Local developer Joseph Bennett purchased the former Shull-David Elementary property in Lehighton Borough for $402,500 at a public auction Monday afternoon.
Bennett said “no comment” when asked about a potential use for the property, located along Beaver Run Road.
A local developer outbid an alternative education provider Monday afternoon to purchase a former Lehighton Area School District elementary school.
Joseph Bennett, using the name Lehighton School Site LLC, posted the successful bid of $402,500 for Shull-David Elementary school during a public auction held at the district administrative building.
Shull-David, located at 200 Beaver Run Road in Lehighton Borough, is one of four elementary schools that closed when Lehighton opened its new elementary center in the fall of 2018.
When asked how he intended to use the property, Bennett said “no comment.”
Bennett’s bid was one of two submitted during Monday’s auction. Behavioral Health Associates opened the bidding at $400,000, but did not attempt to go higher than Bennett.
With the sale of Shull-David, the district has just one unused elementary school, Franklin, remaining.
“This sale certainly helps us,” Lehighton Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said after the auction. “We were paying on average $50,000 a year in utilities just for the upkeep because we did keep the heat on in the winter to keep the building going.”
The school had been for sale for over a year with minimal interest. A handful of commercial real estate agents brought clients through the building to no avail.
Cleaver said Bennett had been through the building before the auction.
“He viewed it a handful of times and expressed interest and today he was the highest bidder,” Cleaver said.
In November 2017, Lehighton sold East Penn and Mahoning elementary schools for $350,000 each, also at public auction. BHA was the successful bidder for Mahoning, where it now runs the Mahoning Valley Academy for grades 7 through 12.
Had BHA purchased Shull-David, it would have remained off the tax roll, but that changes with Bennett’s acquisition.
“This puts it on the tax roll through his company, so that is an additional revenue source that comes back to the district,” Cleaver said.
Cleaver said Bennett has not confirmed with him how he planned to use the building.
“There were several things they talked about when they toured the building, but as far as telling me for sure how they plan to use it, that’s up to them,” he said.
The auction was originally slated for July 15, but Lehighton administrators said it had to be pushed back a week to comply with a law requiring advertisement of the event in the Carbon County Law Journal.
The date change was ratified by the board in an 8-1 vote Monday night. Director David Bradley cast the negative vote, saying that vote should have been taken before the auction.
“This is like closing the gate after the horse is out of the barn,” Bradley said.
District resident Barb Bowes said she brought the advertising requirement to the administration’s attention and was, “thankful this time it was done correctly, although I do think a vote to change the date should have happened before the auction.”
Bradley also voted against approving Bennett’s bid, noting that he sent an email to the board Monday morning asking for the auction to be postponed.
“Just delaying it a week resulted in a higher bid than the $400,000, imagine what giving interested bidders more time would do,” he said. “We have the opportunity to do this right and give people more of an opportunity to prepare for this.”
Fellow board member Andrew Yenser said the constituents he spoke to were happy there was any interest in the property.
“I talked to many people who were very excited we could finally get this off the books,” Yenser said.
Cleaver updated the board Monday on Franklin, the lone remaining closed elementary school belonging to the district. An interested party, he said, has viewed the property several times.
“They have asked me to keep their information confidential at this point, but we did share with them the process by which we just sold Shull-David,” Cleaver said.