West Geauga Local Schools was to begin seeking a real estate consultant this week to help determine potential development opportunities for the fromer Newbury school property.

In his report during last week’s Sept. 29 meeting, Superintendent Richard Markwardt informed the board that his task force committee has met three times since it was formed in early July. In these meetings, he said representatives of Newbury Township had reaffirmed their desire to establish a community center on the former Newbury Local School District property.

Newbury schools closed over the summer and officially joined West Geauga Local Schools in a territory transfer for the 2020-2021 school year.

Since the final approval of the territory transfer last year, the school districts engaged in discussions for the potential uses of the property where community surveys revealed the majority of the public’s desire to see the property become a community or recreation center owned by the Newbury Township Trustees.

Trustee Chairman Bill Skomrock also created a task force for the township that meets every Tuesday evening to carry forward discussions of a potential acquisition of the school property.

“There was also a desire raised by the [superintendent’s] committee that the West Geauga Board of Education engage the services of a real estate consultant to look at some of the other possibilities that perhaps we weren’t seeing for the property,” Dr. Markwardt said. “When we looked at the community center that was being proposed by some of the Newbury residents, there were a certain finite set of activities that might take place in that community center and what we wanted to make sure of was that we weren’t being blind to some other more global opportunities with regard to the property.

“The community center piece is very much alive and well in terms of the discussions that are ongoing regarding the future of that, but we also are in the process of trying to find someone in the real estate area who can give us some ideas of what the opportunities would be for development of that property,” he continued.

If Newbury Trustees were to take a portion of the property, he said, the school board would need to consider what other opportunities there are for the remainder of the property. Dr. Markwardt said he planned to have interviews underway by this week.

Once a firm is on board, he said, the BOE will begin exploring other potential uses for the property alongside the township trustees.

“We certainly want to engage in discussions with the Newbury township trustees along the way because we will need their cooperation and their help, particularly to explore some of the options if there would be any zoning changes necessary, for instance,” Dr. Markwardt said.

He said he would like to give a full report to the board at their Oct. 26 meeting, stating he believed the consultation would take about two weeks. He estimated that this would cost about $7,500 for the district, noting that price might be overestimated.

“The scope of what we’re asking [firms] for is very focused,” Dr. Markwardt said. “We’re basically asking them to do a market analysis of what the market would bear for that property.

“Once we have an idea of what those potential uses of the property could be,” he continued, “we have to have some serious discussions between the West Geauga Board of Education and the Newbury Township Board of Trustees to see their willingness also to work with us on this.”

The next West Geauga BOE meeting is Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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