Tuesday, Sep 27, 2016
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Education

Ottawa Hills: Recreational fields project on hold

Work on the recreational fields of Ottawa Hills Elementary School won't begin this year as expected because the board of education and the village council can't agree on what will happen if the school system can't afford to maintain the improved land.

Mayor Kevin Gilmore said the village won't spend the nearly $600,000 it was going to use to improve the property without a stipulation that the 5 acres could be taken by the village if the grounds deteriorate over the years.

The school board's position is that Ohio law only allows for transferring property at market value or public auction and it can't legally meet the village's demands.

Gary Wilson, president of the board of education, also said the panel won't hold a future board to a commitment that could result in the system losing what is essentially the only land they have for future growth.

According to Ohio law, the school board must declare property as surplus before disposing of it in any way, he said.

Improvements were planned to begin this summer and most of the first phase - tearing up the blacktop area near the playground at the south end of the school and replacing blacktop at the north end - was expected to be completed before the beginning of the school year.

The council agreed in May to spend as much as $570,000 to upgrade the grounds at the elementary school that are used by community groups for baseball, softball, soccer, and other field sports.

Mr. Gilmore described the fields as being in "horrible condition,'' and said they'd been that way for decades.

Improving them would spruce up the village, which is in competition with other jurisdictions for prospective home buyers, he said.

The major part or the work was to be next year when the grounds would be replaced after irrigation and drainage systems were installed. The work included new landscaping and the realignment of ball fields to correct the current positioning that results in outfields intersecting.

The entire project is now on hold, Mr. Gilmore said.

The council wants to protect its investment in upgrading the property if, in the future, the board of education lets the property deteriorate, he said.

The mayor said he isn't suggesting that will happen now or in the future, but financial circumstances could someday force the board of education to stop maintaining the property.

The village's draft agreement calls for a warning to be issued if the land isn't well-maintained, with a 30-day period for the condition to be corrected.

Another step allows for that time period to be extended and after that the village can move in to correct the situation and bill the board of education for the work.

"Only if all of those steps fail,'' the mayor said, would the village be able to take over the property. He said the draft agreement calls for the payment of $1 for the land.

He said he is aware of the board's contention that such a transfer of property would be against Ohio law, but added that a legal opinion prepared for the village contends such a transfer would be proper.

There are no meetings scheduled to discuss the issue further.

Contact Mike Jones at

mjones@theblade.com

or 419-724-6096.

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