Land swap negotiation continues

"Negotiations are very positive and moving toward a conclusion,” said Stan Kavy, chairman of London City Council’s facilities committee, following a closed-door meeting July 22 with London City Schools Superintendent Steve Allen and Treasurer Britt Lewis.

The school district and city are negotiating a possible land swap. The district has offered the city its downtown campus in exchange for approximately 50 acres of city-owned land located on Route 38 across from the high school and elementary school. The school district wants to build a new middle school on the 50 acres.

Time is of the essence for the negotiations. Originally, school officials expected to receive $25 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission in the summer of 2009. The money represents the state’s share of construction costs for overall school facilities improvements.

With that timeline in mind, school officials first approached city council with the land swap idea this past spring. The idea, Allen said, was to work out an agreement by December and get the details in order in early 2009 to be ready for the state’s funds next summer.

That timeline changed earlier this summer when the state gave London Schools  the option to take the “fast track” to receive their funds yet this year. The option would get students and staff into better facilities sooner and eliminate a year of potential construction cost increases, Allen said. To take advantage of the fast track option, the school district must submit a plan to the state for review by mid-August.

The land swap is the one part of the plan that is not complete. While neither Kavy or Allen talked specifics about the negotiations, both said the main point is the existing buildings.

“We (the city) just don’t need all those buildings and can’t afford to maintain them,” said Kavy. “What stays and what doesn’t stay (in the swap) is where the negotiations lie right now.”

Among the structures on the downtown campus are the current middle school, the sixth-grade building, the district administrative offices, and the old elementary school. Allen noted that the old elementary will be torn down, possibly next summer, as already planned through the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Bill Beathard, chairman of council’s finance committee, will lead any further negotiations in the next two weeks while Kavy is on vacation. Meanwhile, the school district soon will contract with a company to take core samples of the land on Route 38 to test its viability for school construction.

Councilman Rodney Lauer attended the school board’s regular meeting on July 21 to comment on the land swap. During the public participation portion of the meeting, he posed the question, “Is this the best thing to do with the (state) money coming in (to the school district)?”

He also said he would like more options and more time to consider them, and therefore more time for the public to comment on them.

Allen agreed with Lauer that the timeline is tight, but said the state rather than the district is dictating the schedule.

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