BOWLING GREEN -- For the second time this year, Bowling Green City Council has approved a deal to purchase a former school property once the old school is demolished.
Council voted 6-1 earlier this week to pay $245,000 for the site of the city schools' former Central Administration Building on South Grove Street from the investment firm that purchased it for $15,000 at public auction last year. That firm, Gold Nugget Properties, LLC, must tear down the 1913 building, grade it with dirt to sidewalk level, and plant grass by Sept. 1 for the sale to be completed.
"We don't close until they clear it, and if it's not cleared by Sept. 1, we don't buy it," said City Attorney Mike Marsh.
Not everyone thinks tearing down another building in the Boom Town Historic District is a wise use of limited taxpayer dollars, particularly when the city has no plans for the property. Last month, the former Bowling Green Junior High School was razed by a private contractor with the agreement that the city would buy the vacant lot for $480,000.
"I was heavily against demolition of the junior high," said Nathan Eberly, a city resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year. "Many communities across this country have done well with preserving such buildings and turning the usage into commercial or mixed use in order to make the best use of the property and still keep a nice historic feel to the downtown."
Even more disturbing, Mr. Eberly said, is the fact that both of council's decisions to purchase the school properties were done without public input or discussion at a time when money is tight.
"I would hope Bowling Green City Council would be more open and more transparent with their actions," said Mr. Eberly, a Libertarian running for the 3rd District state House seat now held by Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green).
Judy Conibear, who lives on North Grove Street, said it's distressing to see the city demolish buildings in her neighborhood without at least salvaging items for resale or recycling.
With the junior high school, she said, "Everything was just bulldozed. You go into an antique shop and see old school lockers, blackboards … They don't care. I just can't believe how oblivious they are to all concerns of ecology and recycling."
Fourth Ward Councilman Greg Robinette cast the lone dissenting vote on the most recent purchase agreement.
"In my opinion, good stewardship of the taxpayer's money required that 'no' vote," he said. "I just think at this time the purchase of what will be a level and seeded lot -- for which the city of Bowling Green has no identified need or plan -- for $245,000 is just not prudent at this time."
Mr. Marsh said that while the city has no particular plan for the property, it is in the vicinity of the junior high site that has been identified as the best location for a new city hall if and when one is constructed. He said city officials also were concerned the Central Administration Building would become a blighted property because the current owner has been unable to sell it and did not winterize or heat it.
"It's full of mold. The floors have all heaved. There was concern it was going to sit and deteriorate," Mr. Marsh said. "I think they were concerned that someday [the owner] would walk away from it."
The property on South Grove Street consists of five parcels that total just under 1.7 acres, according to Wood County Auditor's records. Its $245,000 purchase price will be paid for with funds from the city's facility capital reserve fund, which is intended for facility purchases or new construction.
City Finance Director Brian Bushong said the city had earmarked $160,000 for a fire training tower that it no longer intends to build, while the remainder of the funds were intended for a future city hall building.
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