BOWLING GREEN — Through an unorthodox purchase, sale, and repurchase of property, the city plans to convert the former Bowling Green Junior High School site into green space and, perhaps one day, a new municipal building.
"From my perspective, this plan that has evolved, that has been worked through with council by my predecessor and the municipal administrator, makes a whole lot of sense," said Mayor Richard Edwards, who took office Jan. 1.
The city acquired the old school for $1 from the Bowling Green City Schools two years ago, sold it to Midwest Environmental Control Inc. of Toledo for $1 in December, and struck a deal last month to buy it back this summer for $480,000. The caveat: Midwest will cover the costs of removing asbestos and demolishing the 1920s-era school and present the city with a sidewalk-level, seeded lot. As a private company, it can do the work without having to pay prevailing wages, among other requirements the city would have faced if it hired a demolition contractor in the usual way.
"Originally, the [demolition] cost estimates were in the $900,000 range — just a little under $1 million," Mr. Edwards said "I look at it in many respects as a blessing because it wasn't in the cards. We didn't have those kinds of monies."
Eric Myers, president of the Bowling Green school board, said the board assumed the city would tear down the school and build a city hall on the site when it sold it the property in 2010, but difficult financial times call for finding different ways to get things done.
"I don't think 10 years ago anyone would've thought of a deal like this, but it makes sense in this economy," he said. "It's definitely different, but ultimately, the city saved money. Actually, I think it was a pretty smart deal."
City Attorney Mike Marsh said when the city learned how much asbestos was in the building and how expensive demolition would prove, it decided to let the building sit for a time. When Toledo-based Midwest Environmental approached the city last fall about taking on the building to keep its employees working over the winter, Mr. Marsh said the idea made sense.
"We felt it would get us out from under a big asbestos problem," he said.
A deed restriction included with the sales agreement stated that the property had to be cleared by July 1 or the title would revert to the city. Mr. Marsh said asbestos removal was under way earlier this year when the property was listed with a real-estate agent, prompting the city to offer the $480,000 asking price.
Council discussed the purchase offer in executive session April 2 and promptly approved it as an emergency measure. Council President John Zanfordino said council did not want to delay the deal by setting it out for three readings, nor did it want to subject the decision to a possible voter referendum, so it passed the measure as an emergency.
"We debated and were aware that the fashion we did it in left it a non-challengeable act, but we did it for the purpose of not delaying the seller for six months on something we felt was the best thing for the city," Mr. Zanfordino said.
Although Mr. Marsh said Midwest and the city never had a written agreement for the city to repurchase the property, emails exchanged between city Administrator John Fawcett and Midwest President Dale Bruhl, Jr., in October indicate that had been the city's plan. Mr. Bruhl told Mr. Fawcett in an Oct. 26 email that his company estimated the cost of environmental work and demolition at $480,000.
"It is our opinion that at this price, the city of Bowling Green could save in excess of $200,000," Mr. Bruhl wrote. "This savings is derived from all work being completed without having to pay prevailing wages and not having to pay for a 3rd party consultant for specification development and project monitoring."
Mr. Zanfordino said it certainly was council's goal to own the property — minus the school. A citizens committee appointed under former Mayor John Quinn had identified the junior high on Wooster Street just a block west of Main Street as an ideal site for a new city building.
"I didn't know when we first sold it that it would play out this way, but I think we all knew all along we wanted to reconsider the property and get it back if at all possible," Mr. Zanfordino said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.
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