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Fight between fiscal responsibility, historic preservation in West Chester

Published: Thursday, July 12, 2018 @ 7:00 AM


            West Chester’s Station Road schoolhouse is up for sale again at a minimum price of $50,000, but historical society members are hoping the price is negotiable — $1 is their offer — to take the property off the township’s books. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
West Chester’s Station Road schoolhouse is up for sale again at a minimum price of $50,000, but historical society members are hoping the price is negotiable — $1 is their offer — to take the property off the township’s books. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

West Chester’s Station Road schoolhouse is up for sale again at a minimum price of $50,000, but historical society members are hoping the price is negotiable — $1 is their offer — to take the property off the township’s books.

The trustees on Tuesday agreed to put a request for proposals out, looking for someone to take what they have termed a money pit off their hands. The minimum price they will accept is $50,000, but all three trustees aren’t like-minded on this issue.

“I think we should give the schoolhouse to the historical society,” trustee Ann Becker told the Journal-News. “History is just so important and our community has grown leaps and bounds over the past 15, even 10 years that we really need to remember where we came from.”

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Saying “we need to have a strong center of where we were,” Becker said the West Chester/Union Twp. Historical Society should get the building to use as a museum.

“The historical society has been a strong group for a long time, but right now all the materials they have are scattered in three different basements,” she said. “I think it’s time we gave them a home of their own.”

West Chester tried to forge a deal with the historical society two years ago, offering to sell the building to the group for $1 if they would assume all maintenance.

But that agreement was never consummated because the historical society wanted the township to continue upkeep of the brick building and three acre grounds.

David Lindenschmidt, a historical society member, former trustee candidate and neighbor of the property, said the historical society has re-examined the trustees’ previous $1 offer, and they are in full agreement with the terms now.

Between cash on hand and commitments from the businesses, he said the historical society has the funds to maintain the building for three years.

“Now these trustees are saying, ‘Nope, we’re changing that. We want $50,000 cash and we’re going to offer it to anybody that walks in the door,’ ” Lindenschmidt said. “It’s just a real shame that the shortsightedness of these trustees is going to rob the residents of the valuable piece of property like this.”

Trustee Mark Welch said that is exactly the point.

The Butler County Auditor’s Office values the parcel at $237,000 for the land and building. The purchase price, coupled with the estimated $200,000 the township has already spent refurbishing the landmark means they would be handing over property valued at almost $500,000 to the group for nearly nothing.

He said the business plan the historical society presented to him is inadequate because it doesn’t say how much money the group has in the bank nor does it outline fundraising plans for the future.

However, he said if they were to submit a suitable proposal he wouldn’t reject it out of hand, even if it doesn’t include the full $50,000 asking price.

“I would certainly take a look at it,” Welch said. “But let’s just be honest, there’s a lot of ‘oh yes we can’ but you’ve never done it. You may say ‘oh yes we will’ but one of the things that might help is the commitment by those people that call themselves part of the historical society to put their money where their mouth is. How much money can you come up with among yourselves?”

Trustee Lee Wong, however, said he won’t budge off the $50,000 minimum mark. He said the historical society does not have a long-term plan to care for the school.

“They want it for a dollar basically…,” Wong said. “There is no money. There was a lot of fluff, there is no substance. Come up with $50,000 cash and we’ll talk about it.”

A letter from the society dated May 21 indicates the group has pledges of financial support from six businesses and residents.

The historic two-room schoolhouse became a source of public consternation last year, when Community Montessori School owners Todd and Jamie Minniear offered to pay $250,000 — the price the township paid for the property in 1999 — for the school.

The Minniears had planned to build 3,800-square-foot addition onto the historic schoolhouse to house new fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade programs.

Neighbors came out in droves worried about the impact on the area, citing traffic among their biggest concerns.

Community Montessori School currently has 46 students enrolled at its building on nearby Cincinnati-Dayton Road.

The township’s zoning board denied zoning for the school and the Minniears sued the township. A consent decree between the township and the Minniears settling the lawsuit was eventually tossed out in court on a technicality.

Todd Minniear said he and his wife have purchased the former Embrace Preschool at 7537 Burton Drive in Liberty Twp., where they can expand, but they still want the Station Road schoolhouse as well.

He will be submitting a proposal to the trustees and hopefully they will be able to resolve the zoning issues, he said.

He said he believes their support system in West Chester is stronger than the opposition.

“People are reacting to the opposition of the neighbors, but anytime anybody wants to build anything in West Chester today the NIMBYs (not in my back yard) come out and that’s all this is,” he said. “If everybody stopped what they were doing anytime a neighbor said don’t build something next to me, nothing would ever get done.”

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