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Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2024

Washington site issue now ‘test of wills’

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Usually, the acceptance of former school property to be used as a youth football facility is not a matter of controversy – or even disagreement, for that matter.

Van Wert Councilman At-Large Jeff Agler expresses his disappointment that a plan to take over the former Washington Elementary School site was not finalized during his term in office. (Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent)
Van Wert Councilman At-Large Jeff Agler expresses his disappointment that a plan to take over the former Washington Elementary School site was not finalized during City Council’s December 23 meeting. (VW independent file photo)

That’s not the case with the former Washington Elementary School site, though, which has become nothing less than a test of wills between members of Van Wert City Council and Mayor Don Farmer.

City Council, led by Councilmen Jeff Agler and Stuart Jewett, has sought to authorize the mayor to sign a memorandum of agreement with the Van Wert City Board of Education that would allow the city to use the property for parkland, as well as a field for Van Wert Youth Football – a volunteer organization that has promised to maintain the site.

It’s a use that VWCS Superintendent Ken Amstutz says would be a good one for the property, especially since Youth Football now plays at a field at The Budd Company, located in the industrial park on the south edge of town.

“What would be better than bringing those kids in town?” Amstutz said, noting that the Washington School site would be much more accessible to young people than the current playing field.

To enable the deal, the school district’s attorney, Chuck Koch, has drawn up a memorandum of agreement that was presented to the mayor on Friday, December 20. The memorandum was then supposed to be approved by City Council during its last regularly scheduled meeting of the year this past Monday.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, Mayor Farmer sought a delay in the process until sometime next year, and announced that there was “a very strong potential” that two other organizations could be interested in working with the school district on the Washington School site.

“There’s not two entities we’d end up with, there are two entities that are potential,” the mayor told City Council during a joint meeting of the Property and Equipment and Parks and Recreation committees December 23.

The mayor would not provide any details of the new proposal, which he said came from Amstutz during a meeting the mayor and Safety-Service Director Jay Fleming had with him prior to the December school board meeting. Mayor Farmer added that the plan was in a very preliminary stage, but did say he felt it was important to pursue the proposal if it would meet the goal of providing a facility for youth football, while also allowing the city to not be a party to the agreement.

During a phone interview with Amstutz late last week, the superintendent said the only thing he shared with the mayor were informal conversations he had with Jon Rhoades, president of the Community Improvement Corporation. Amstutz said Rhoades had basically told him that the CIC might possibly be able to provide assistance to the school district in connection with the Washington school site.

“Jon basically said that, if all else fails, the CIC would be interested in helping out, if possible,” Amstutz noted. “There’s never been a commitment, there’s never been a meeting with the CIC (on the Washington School site).”

Rhoades confirmed Amstutz’ statements during a telephone conversation on Saturday morning, and also noted that he had not had any conversations at that time with Mayor Farmer on the issue.

It’s also unclear just what assistance the CIC could provide to the schools on the issue, other than to facilitate the sale of the property, since the CIC is, for all intents and purposes, merely a quasi-governmental real estate agent.

Rhoades agreed with that estimation, noting that the CIC’s primary purpose is to provide some control for schools and other government subdivisions over who could purchase property they own. Without assistance from the CIC, a school board, for example, would have to sell property to the highest bidder – even if the buyer might want the property for a purpose the board felt was inappropriate.

The CIC, as an economic development entity, is not required to sell property to the highest bidder, and could even potentially give land away – especially to a company that was interested in bringing a new facility to the area.

Jewett and Fourth Ward Councilman Pete Weir – who along with Jeff Agler, are going off Council on December 31 – see the mayor’s last-minute announcement of other groups’ interest in the property as a tactic to delay approval of the memorandum until a new City Council is seated in January.

Mayor Farmer disagreed and went so far as to commit to the Washington School property being accepted for use by Van Wert Youth Football, and possibly others. “I can say, probably unequivocally, (that) one way or another, that property will be accepted (either by the city or another entity),” the mayor noted.

Meanwhile, the memorandum has turned into a battle over who will have the final word on the issue. City Council is meeting tonight in special session, beginning at 6 p.m., to again consider legislation that would authorize the mayor to sign Koch’s memorandum and would make the city responsible for the property. If that measure is approved, City Council would also have to authorize the mayor to negotiate a contract with Van Wert Youth Football to ensure that group meets its promises to maintain the property.

For his part, the mayor has vowed not to sign the memorandum until his newest proposal has been pursued.

Amstutz did note, though, that the city has no real liability for the property,even if the mayor signs the memorandum,  since the school district retains ownership of the land.

“There is a very clear ‘out’ clause in (the memorandum of understanding) saying that, if the city cannot manage it, it will come back to the Van Wert City Schools,” the superintendent added.

POSTED: 12/30/13 at 8:16 am. FILED UNDER: News