Newbury Trustees Consider Leasing School, Property
April 15, 2022 by Ann Wishart

The Newbury Township Trustees and the West Geauga Schools Board of Education may be moving toward a chance for the township to acquire most of the Newbury Schools property if the community supports it.

The Newbury Township Trustees and the West Geauga Schools Board of Education may be moving toward a chance for the township to acquire most of the Newbury Schools property if the community supports it.

In a letter to the trustees, the school board proposed leasing the former intermediate school and land to the township for a year while it is determined if Newbury voters will approve a levy large enough to maintain the property.

Trustees met April 6 and voted 2-1 to hire attorney Tom Fitzsimmons to negotiate a lease with the school district, which sent a draft of the document to the township.

Trustee Bill Skomrock said one major concern has been if the intermediate building needs to have a sprinkler system installed to become a community center.

He sited the Ohio Revised Code section that exempts “blighted school buildings” from that requirement because the basic use of the building would not change and the Legislature wants communities to be able to use those facilities, Skomrock said.

Dave Gifford, a member of the Newbury Task Force working with the trustees to acquire the property, said the roof needs repairs.

Some work also needs to be done on restrooms to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Skomrock said, adding its possible the brick façade needs attention.

He said he and Dave Davison, of Envelope Consulting Services LLC, in Chardon, walked through the school.

The firm will evaluate and prioritize projects that need to be done and provide a written report. Davison is not a contractor, but can give the trustees a ballpark cost, Skomrock said.

Trustees voted unanimously to retain Envelope Consulting for no more than $3,000.

“It doesn’t commit us to anything. I’m okay with that,” said Trustee Greg Tropf, who has said he believes the cost of owning and maintaining the building and property would be too high for the township to afford without a levy.

Skomrock said a small levy can’t be placed on the ballot until November 2022.

In the April 1 letter to the trustees, the school board said West Geauga Schools spent about $400,000 on utilities to maintain both buildings and 39 acres since the territory transfer of Newbury Schools. The letter set a date of April 30 to finalize a lease agreement and sited the lack of unanimity among board members as a concern.

“While the board is supportive of a community center located in the intermediate building, it has concluded that such an idea may not be possible given the lack of unanimous support of all the Newbury Township Trustees and the significant costs of renovating the building.

“At its March meeting, the board decided to give the township trustees a final offer to lease the intermediate building, adjacent parking lot and athletic fields with the option to purchase the intermediate building in one year’s time,” the letter states. “This offer extends until April 30, 2022. If the township trustees and the board cannot come to a signed agreement prior to that date, the board must move forward with other options to dispose of the property, including its sale and/or demolition.”

In a phone conversation April 8, Skomrock said the resolution and lease agreement draft have been sent to Fitzsimmons, who will be in contact with the school district’s attorney.

“It has to be a lease to begin with,” he said, adding trustees need to find out if the board of trustees can place a levy on the November ballot without a unanimous vote.

Through a territory transfer, Newbury Schools was absorbed by West Geauga Schools in 2020.

The high school on Auburn Road will be demolished at West Geauga Schools’ expense this spring as part of the territory transfer. Jay Bishop, director of operations and capital improvements for West Geauga Schools, emailed a letter and bids for the asbestos abatement and demolition of the high school, showing the cost of abatement will be $354,000 and demolition will cost about $279,000 per the contracts the school board approved at its last meeting.

Discussions on what to do with the intermediate school and property have been intermittent, but the West Geauga school board wants to close the matter as soon as possible because of the cost of utilities and maintaining the property, according to the letter.