NEWBURY — While the township can still count on two large tenants to rent out space for the former Newbury Local School District campus, panelists say they’re in a bind that only a private meeting can untie.

Former Newbury Board of Education member Kimya Matthews, who serves on trustee Chairman Bill Skomrock’s subcommittee for exploring the potential acquisition of the school property, said at last week’s Sept. 2 trustees’ meeting that despite the promising potential rental agreements, the panel needs to meet in executive session with the West Geauga Local School District to openly discuss their options.

Mrs. Matthews said Curtain 440 and a local soccer club have expressed verbally that they are still interested in a partnership to use the facilities in the event the township takes ownership of the property.

She said this interest, however, leads to a “hiccup” in their plans for acquiring the property.

“One of the [pain points] for the township to take on the building is if no money comes with the building in order to give us time to run a bond issue, then it’s kind of all a moot point, right? Because there wouldn’t be any money in the budget to make it work,” Mrs. Matthews said.

She explained that the soccer club has about 300-plus participants and the theater guild has about 50 participants, which gives the township the opportunity to rent the space on a regular basis while still retaining other community uses for the public with the proper agreement in place.

“But not [yet] having ownership of the buildings limits us on a couple of things,” she said. “We, as a committee, are hesitant to ask the township for the funds in order to hire some of these professionals to make the plan, because we don’t know if we are going to be the owners of this, and that’s a little bit fiscally irresponsible to spend money on a project that we don’t know if we’re really going to own it or not.

“Similarly, West G’s kind of in a bind, because without projections from us, they can’t in good faith hand the property over,” she continued. “There’s this elephant in the room that we just kind of need to get together and talk privately.”

The West Geauga Board of Education will have the final say in what happens to the former campus after taking ownership as a result of the Newbury and West Geauga territory transfer that went into effect July 1. Both Newbury Township and West Geauga have since created their own task forces charged with exploring the fate of the property.

Mr. Skomrock created a task force to explore acquiring the property for a community or recreation center, hoping to make Newbury a “destination” in Geauga County, rather than a “pass-through” township. He appointed five members to the subcommittee.

Mrs. Matthews said the task forces, or select representatives of the two entities, need to meet behind closed doors because “the buying and disposal of real estate” qualifies for executive sessions before bringing it before the public with “sensitive information” like whether the township will only acquire parts of the property, remetering the utilities, dissolving other parts of the property and whether the township will receive funds to support the property while seeking a potential bond levy.

Mrs. Matthews said that despite the conversations potentially continuing in closed meetings, any questions presented in these meetings will be provided to the public.

“Then, hopefully, all of us can come together and kind of have a more open conversation about what our goals are and [whether they’re] attainable in the timeline that is prescribed by West G and the township,” she said.

The West Geauga BOE set a deadline for the township to submit a letter of intent, including set plans for acquiring the property, by Sept. 30. The township has already submitted a letter of interest, stating that they are interested in exploring the possibility of acquiring the property in July.

“This is the only opportunity that either of these boards have to make a community center in the middle of town there,” Mrs. Matthews said. “It’s our one shot, and we’re very aware that we can only do that with financial backing and the time to plan.

“So, the intention of that meeting again is for us to be able to have a more open, honest conversation as a group about what West Geauga’s pain points are about [and] what the township’s pain points are in terms of making this a realistic venture.”

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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