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Zoning law would prevent bus garage at Central School

IRONTON — The anxiety residents bordering Central School felt when learning Ironton City Schools was considering turning the soon-to-be-auctioned building into a bus garage was calmed at least for the moment Thursday night.

Mayor Rich Blankenship informed city council and the dozen or so homeowners who live near the school that the parcel of land the building resides on is zoned in a way that moving a bus garage onto it would not be allowed under current city law.

Reading from city ordinance, Blankenship said the Central School property is zoned for residential homes only.

Schools buildings, when used in a teaching capacity, are exempt from zoning.

“What that means is a bus garage is not permitted on the property,” Blankenship said.

The property is officially zoned R-2, meaning that two units per lot could be built on individual parcels.

Blankenship said he informed ICS Superintendent Dean Nance of the zoning regulations regarding Central earlier in the week.

Should the building not sell, if the school district could file a motion of appeal with the city’s planning commission and zoning board to recommend a change in the property’s current zoning for city council to adopt.

That process could be a long shot for ICS though, as many courts have ruled that spot or contract zoning of a particular parcel is unconstitutional.

Nance said that the entire situation was unwarranted because the district was looking at a variety of scenarios — all of which resulted in the permanent location of the bus garage and automotive tech class near the high school, though the district did look at some temporary solutions tied to its auction of property.

“We have no idea what will come out of this sale. All could sell or none could sell,” Nance said. “Our whole goal is to be good stewards of taxpayer money and provide the best educational opportunities for our students.”

Nance said the board charged him with coming up with solutions and that he had to look at all scenarios since everything is dependent on which buildings sell.

“Every scenario winds up with the final bus garage at the high school,” Nance said, adding that the temporary solutions were in part designed to potentially allow the district to save money by not renting the armory. “Every other possible scenario was only temporary until we get the money to build that facility.”

The city schools’ superintendent said the district wants to be good community neighbors and keep residents informed.

“I, nor the board, would never put an eyesore or urban blight on any neighborhood in this community,” he said. “We want to be as transparent as possible. The only way we could be more transparent is if we posted every thought that came to mind.”

The issue concerning a bus garage at Central School came to the forefront on June 2 when Nance informed Blankenship that the district was considering remodeling Central School into the board of education office and bus garage should the building not sell as part of the district’s five building auction on July 6.

Besides the garage, Nance told the city other possible options for Central would include getting estimates to tear it down.

However, the idea of having the building converted into a bus garage angered many long-time residents who live within earshot of the school.

John Lutz spoke for them in front of council on Thursday.

Lutz, father of city councilman Mike Lutz, is the primary backer of a petition drive intended to keep a bus garage out of Central.

Despite the mayor’s revelation, all Lutz wants is a little more communication with the school district and asked for the city to assist residents on that.

“I am asking the city to notify the board and ask for their plans for the school,” Lutz said while addressing council.

Lutz, who has collected 60 signatures so far, said he will continue following the potential outcome of Central by attending the upcoming board of education meeting on June 25.

Councilman Kevin Waldo recommended Lutz attend, saying council “will support you on this.”

The ascending-price auction will place Whitwell Elementary, Central School, Lawrence Street School and West Ironton School along with the district’s board of education headquarters on the open market.

All together, the buildings have appraised selling value at more than $2 million and total more than 72,000 square feet on 3.98 acres of land.

The buildings are being sold because they won’t be needed following the consolidation of students at the new elementary and middle school scheduled to open this fall on the city’s north side

Central School is currently the home of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization’s Head Start agency.

The CAO has publicly stated they have a strong interest in bidding on the Whitwell School building to relocate its Head Start operations.