The Station Road schoolhouse controversy will finally be over tonight when West Chester Twp. trustees say they will agree to sell it to the historical society for $1.
Previously, Trustee Board President Lee Wong said he would not sell the property for a penny less than the $50,000 the trustees listed as the asking price when they went out for requests for proposals in July.
Wong told the Journal-News he’ll make the vote unanimous on the sale of the property to the West Chester-Union Township Historical Society. He said he is not caving under “political pressure” as they need to unload the “non-performing asset.”
“Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and vote,” Wong said.
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Trustee Mark Welch — who once had financial reservations about turning the property over to the historical society — said he’ll vote for the measure. He said the society raised about $70,000 this year to pay for needed upgrades and maintenance, and that gave him a comfort level to support the transfer.
“My whole purpose for holding the historical society’s feet to the fire with regards to ownership was to count the cost, know what you’re getting into…,” he told the Journal-News. “So I am, with hope and faith, expecting that they are going to identify the critical projects, that they are going to manage their money properly and that they’re going to turn that into one heck of a historical asset.”
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. The agreement was never consummated because the society wanted the township to continue the upkeep of the brick building and its three-acre grounds.
Dave Lindenschmidt with the historical society said they were keeping their “ fingers crossed” this morning that the trustees would agree on the sale. The vote has to be unanimous.
Trustee Ann Becker has supported this sale all along.
“I’m glad tonight we’ll finally be able to preserve the schoolhouse for future years, for the community…,” she said. “It’s really a success story, I’m so proud of everybody who stepped up and got involved, it looks like we’re going to have this great community asset for years and decades and I wish them nothing but the best.”
The five bids the township received to buy the historic schoolhouse ranged from $1 to $130,001, with the majority wanting to turn the building into a home.
Lindenschmidt said they have worked very hard raising funds, expanding their membership and setting things up so they will be able to properly care for the schoolhouse.
“The concerns from the trustees were legitimate, we heard them and we’ve addressed them,” he said. “We’ve got money in the bank, we’ve got a game plan for additional fund-raising and we’ve got a new organization.”
He said they have created a new building committee comprised of people “that are very interested in the building and preserving the building and they are going to be dedicating their time and efforts to the schoolhouse.”
The historical society plans to open the museum — that will have some permanent and some rotating displays of artifacts — to the public one or two days a week and it will offer free private tours for school groups, the scouts and other community organizations. Their goal is also to raise $150,000 over the next six months and continue beefing up the coffers to pay for ongoing upkeep.
Lindenschmidt said they plan to open the building soon after the expected transfer, but beginning next year they will start work on relocating the driveway, adding about 20 spaces to the lot that now holds about four or five cars, and other necessary upgrades.
The schoolhouse saga began in May 2017 when the trustees agreed to sell the historic building to Todd and Jamie Minniear for $250,000, saying it was a “money pit.” The Zoning Board of Appeals disallowed the transfer because of traffic and other concerns so the Montessori School owners sued the township in the Butler County Common Pleas Court.
The two sides tried to seal the deal again as part of the lawsuit settlement a year ago, but angry residents began flooding the trustee chambers frequently protesting the sale. Then Lindenschmidt and neighbor Gary Bolte hired a lawyer and intervened in the lawsuit. They were able to get the case tossed on a technicality. The 12th District Court of Appeals refused to hear the lawsuit.