West Chester Twp. trustees agreed Tuesday to sell a historic Station Road schoolhouse to local Montessori school owners, despite numerous interruptions from those attending the packed meeting.
Trustees first voted in May to sell the Station Road schoolhouse, saying it was a “money pit,” but the Zoning Board of Appeals disallowed the transfer because of traffic concerns.
Todd and Jamie Minniear, owners of Community Montessori School in Olde West Chester, then filed an appeal in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
“This is a very tough decision, we are here for the people, by the people… The township has been sued because of missteps by the BZA hearing a few months ago,” Trustee Lee Wong said. “We cannot deny just because of traffic today. Even if you build a house there is going to be traffic, so that is not a good reason to deny the school.”
One person yelled “it’s an asset” and others made loud remarks during Wong’s speech outlining the township’s reasoning. At one point, trustees warned they were going to have people removed from the meeting.
“Let’s be civil,” Trustee Board President Mark Welch told the audience.
Earlier, Todd Minniear spoke about the project, saying traffic was not identified by the Butler County engineer as an issue. As part of the conditional use they are agreeing to — as part of the lawsuit consent decree — move the entrance to the west side of the property which will improve visibility.
“School traffic is at non-rush hours, non-peak traffic periods,” he said. “Our submitted plan, which has been reviewed by the engineer’s office and West Chester development, illustrates space for cars will be five times more than is needed at maximum student capacity. Also it is a specific conditional use requirement that no cars be queued on Station Road, it will not happen.”
A couple people spoke about wanting the schoolhouse to be used as a historical museum.
Mary Jo Bicknell with the West Chester-Union Historical Society asked the trustees to reconsider the sale and preserve what she said is the only two-room schoolhouse left in Butler County.
“This building was bought and renovated with taxpayer money, it was to be for public use and displays of local history,” Bicknell said. “The sale to a private business lets them save investing any of their money to update this facility… Taxpayers should be able to know their money was used wisely.”
Welch went through the history of the old schoolhouse and the historical society, saying the historical society in 2014 offered to lease the building for $3,000 a year for rent and utilities if the township made some improvements to bring it up to code. He said the trustees didn’t want to lease it they wanted to be rid of it.
Then in June of 2016 the trustees said they would give the historical society the building and grounds for $1 and the society had until August to accept.
“We were giving it away for a dollar, the only thing we asked was that they take ownership and that they maintain it,” Welch said. “The historical society did not act on that contract. The township was literally giving it to them.”
The Minniears are investing about $750,000 purchasing the building — $250,000 was the sale price — and will construct a 3,800-square-foot addition so it can house new fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade programs.
They said they plan to use an architect who can match the historic look of the former school.