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ICS to demolish Central, Whitwell schools

IRONTON — The next tenant to enter Central and Whitwell schools will be the wrecking ball.

In a decision that brought a sense of accomplishment to a grassroots effort of area homeowners, the Ironton Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to demolish both Central School and Whitwell Elementary.

The conclusion by the board to use a combination of state and school monies to flatten both buildings comes less than a month after the two were put on the auction block for 50-percent of their appraised value.

Neither received a single bid at the July 6 auction.

However, despite having the option to sell either building privately following the public auction, ICS chose instead to bulldoze each in the attempt possibly to sell the land as individual parcels, Superintendent Dean Nance said following the vote.

Monday’s determination came following back-to-back special meetings, spread only a week apart, on the possible sale, purchase or lease of property.

Nance did not offer a date when both building would be razed, but said the cost to the district “could be around $60,000” to knock down both and indicated that figure “could be a high number.”

Neither Nance nor the board publicly discussed their reason at the meeting for quickly choosing to tear down both buildings, but Nance said afterward “nobody has approached us yet on either open property.”

The Ohio School Facilities Commission offers a program where monies are available to demolish school buildings.

The state picks up 73 percent of the costs with the school district picking up the remaining 27 percent. A survey of the property comes with the package.

A requirement is that the building had to have been recently used to house district students and in Whitwell’s case it wasn’t an issue as it housed Ironton’s first and second graders during the most recent school year.

In Central’s instance though, the district needed a little bit of a break.

And it might have gotten one.

Home to the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization’s Head Start program along with its own preschool program, Central was initially ineligible to receive state demolition funding as it did not house ICS students.

However, Nance confirmed Monday that the district had received a “verbal commitment” on a variance from Ohio School Facilities Commission Executive Director Michael Shoemaker to utilize monies earmarked for the demolition of Kingsbury School to be used for Central School.

The decision to raze Central comes following a whirlwind 60 days for the South Sixth Street building.

Following the May 29 announcement that Ironton would be putting five of its buildings up for auction, rumors spread quickly concerning the district’s possible plans for each property if it did not sell.

Those rumors turned into frustrations two months ago when a June 2 e-mail from Nance to Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship surfaced detailing the district’s intention of possibly remodeling the building into their bus garage or automotive learning center.

Area residents showed up in droves at both Ironton City Council and the June Ironton Board of Education meeting to show their disapproval of the district’s idea of such a plan with a signed petition in hand.

Much of the initial ire died down following the discovery of a city ordinance that would prohibited the property from being zoned into anything but a school or residential homes should the building be torn down.

Kingsbury School was not part of the auction package. The South Sixth Street school building is in the process of becoming the new home for St. Lawrence Catholic School in the fall under a standing lease agreement the district has with the Catholic parish.

The parish vacated Lawrence Street School at the end of the most recent school year. Lawrence Street School also did not receive a bid in last month’s auction, but private interest in the building heated up in recent weeks.

That interest was stifled Monday when the board voted unanimously to turn down a $175,000 bid on the building by Ironton First United Methodist Church.

The district had been asking for a minimum bid of $225,000 for Lawrence Street School, which was 50-percent of the $450,000 price tag the district had the building appraised at.

Auction rules mandated minimum bids be 50 percent of the building’s appraised value. West Ironton was appraised at $125,000.

A condition of the auction stipulated that all accepted bids be approved by members of the Ironton Board of Education.

Instead, Lawrence Street School will become the new home to the district’s pre-school program and most likely Head Start if a new lease agreement can be worked out between ICS and the CAO.

On July 21, board members voted 4-1 to accept the minimum auction bid of $62,500 for West Ironton Elementary. The building was purchased by Ironton-based R Financial Services, LLC.

The fifth property, the Ironton Board of Education building, hasn’t garnered any public interest and Nance even said Monday that “no discussions” have taken place recently on the building.

Monies generated for the sale of any or all buildings will be directed towards improvements not covered under the facilities program that built the new schools.

Among them include repairs to Tanks Memorial Stadium and the Conley Center.