The West Board of Education on Monday wasted no time moving forward with plans for the former Newbury public school property which includes demolition and site restoration.

During the May 9 meeting, board members approved a resolution for consulting services for the preparation of bidding documents from Parma based firm Terracon Consultants, Inc. in the amount of $9,000.

“The Board of Education works with Terracon to oversee environmental issues like abatement and removal of hazardous materials,” said Superintendent Richard Markwardt. “Any demolition project needs to be done with regard for the safety of workers and the environment.”

Terracon will be tasked to develop an overall demolition specification at the former Newbury school property which includes the elementary school building, bus garage, athletic field complex and outbuildings.

The district has not determined if the foundations, footers, or underground utilities will be removed as part of this project and may elect to leave asphalt paved parking areas, concrete walkways, or an existing registered Ohio Environmental Protection Agency certified drinking water well located on the project site.

Board members also approved an engineering proposal from Gutoskey & Associates, Inc. for a budgeted amount of $2,000 to prepare a proposed grading plan for restoration of the site after demolition of the existing buildings as well as a storm water pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) to satisfy the Ohio EPA permit requirements and obtain approval of a SWPP plan from the Geauga County Soil and Water Conservation district.

“It’s to restore the site of the old Newbury High School after it comes down,” said Dr. Markwardt.

A change order was also approved in the amount of $36,375 by the board to Midwest Environmental, Inc. for asbestos abatement and removal of hazardous materials to the auditorium, library and athletic complex of the former Newbury school property.

“It begins the abatement of the smaller school so it’s not really a problem,” said Dr. Markwardt. “It’s a necessity in buildings that were built in that era.”

On May 3, the board of education by unanimous vote acted formally to terminate negotiations with the Newbury Township Board of Trustees on the topic of a potential community center in the smaller of two school buildings that occupy the former Newbury school campus, a process that was initiated by members of the former school district in 2018.

Appearing before board members on Monday evening was a small group from Newbury expressing how disheartened they were with West Geauga’s decision to end negotiations.

“The most important thing in my opinion when you are dealing with such sensitive topics is to have those conversations publicly,” said Newbury Task Force Member Kimya Matthews. “They have yet to have a discussion on what has changed from giving the property back.”

Mrs. Matthews said that there had been so many attempts to meet person to person between the Newbury Trustees, task force and their lawyer and it fell on deaf ears every single time for nearly three years.

“Every time they have given the trustees a hoop to jump through, the trustees jumped through it and somehow magically they have another hurdle.” said Mrs. Matthews.

Mrs. Matthews believed that the board of education had things planned while still in negotiations with Newbury.

“They voted to end negotiations in a special session,” said Mrs. Matthews. “No matter how many times the trustees asked to meet with them they never would put on a special session to do it and they managed to put on two special sessions in less than five days because there was literally no more barriers to put up.”

Mrs. Matthews said that the decision will be a short-sighted windfall that will potentially have political consequences.

“It hurts my heart,” said Mrs. Matthews. “I didn’t go through the hell that I went through on that merger board in order to have an unstable district for my children now.”

Novelty resident William Schneider said that West Geauga is bullying Newbury residents.

“You’re taking something away from our township to benefit whatever it is you want to benefit,” said Mr. Schneider. “How much more do you need from us?”

Resident Fran Dittrich said that the school board will be remembered for the broken promises they made to Newbury.

“You will always be remembered as people that lied because I was told right to my face that the property was coming back to Newbury and you will always be remembered as the school board that didn’t even honor your own timeline,” said Mrs. Dittrich. “I don’t think you want to be remembered the way that you’re headed so please reconsider.”

Resident Linda Retech said that they believed that board would act in the best interests of our families in Newbury and the surrounding community.

“I’m so frustrated by this, this property is the very heart of our community and we want to get it back,” said Mrs. Retech. “We have paid taxes and made investments on the property for years, work with us and not against us.”

Resident Janis Stefanchik said that she is hoping that negotiations will somehow continue and the board can work things out. “

“I spent many years volunteering at Newbury schools, my son graduated from there and that is the heart of our community,” said Mrs. Stefanchik. “For this to just end with nothing coming up with that building or that property breaks my heart.”

Board member Christina Sherwood read a written statement in response to the board’s decision to end negotiations with the Newbury Township Task Force and Board of Trustees.

“Sensitive to the historical and emotional attachment of the Newbury community to this sight, the West Geauga Board of Education heard and considered the task force’s proposal to utilize part or all of the Newbury campus to house the community center,” said Mrs. Sherwood. “Various iterations of a plan were discussed, but none provided specifics related to usage, a timeline or financial feasibility.”

Mrs. Sherwood said that the process of attempting to publicly discredit the West Geauga School District continues by some and references to the former Russell and Chester school closures serve no constructive purpose in the present situation because the district had sold those buildings to the respective communities.

“In both those cases, the corresponding townships were responsible for the management and eventual demolition of the old buildings,” said Mrs. Sherwood.

Mrs. Sherwood said that if the former Newbury Board of Education or Township Board of Trustees were committed to the establishment of a community center in the smaller school, they could have established one prior to the transfer of the property to West Geauga Schools and nothing would have prevented them from doing so.

“They waited until Newbury was part of the West Geauga school district and asked the West Geauga Board of Education to shoulder the corresponding costs,” said Mrs. Sherwood. “It is an undisputed fact that the Newbury Township Board of Trustees lacks the unanimous decision required by law to purchase the Newbury campus for even a nominal sum.”

Mrs. Sherwood said that the Board of Trustees does not currently possess the funds to maintain the property.

“The West Geauga Board of Education has exercised patience and allocated over $400,000 to continue discussions while maintaining the Newbury campus during these negotiations, it cannot do so indefinitely nor should it be expected to.” said Mrs. Sherwood. “The West Geauga Board of Education remains committed to all of its residents, the future of the Newbury property must be one that benefits both the residents of Newbury and the student of the entire West Geauga Community.”

In a letter to parents dated May 9, the district wrote, “Tonight, the West Geauga Board of Education took formal action to begin abatement of the smaller school on the Newbury property site. This is a logical step in moving toward a future use of the property housing the former Newbury Local School District’s buildings.”

“This decision was made after two years of conversations that began when the former Newbury Local School District was absorbed by the West Geauga Local School District on June 30, 2020 by means of a territory transfer,” the letter reads.

“Since May 2021, 13 written communications have changed hands between the West Geauga Board of Education and the Newbury Township Board of Trustees. In addition, the West Geauga Board invited the Newbury Board of Trustees and members of the Newbury Task Force to attend an executive session of the West Geauga School Board on October 25, 2021. Only Trustee Chair Bill Skomrock and certain members of the Task Force attended.”

A subsequent joint executive session, held on Feb. 1, was attended by all three of the Newbury trustees, the Newbury Township Fiscal Officer Bev Sustar and members of the Newbury Task Force that Mr. Skomrock commissioned to advise him regarding the school property.

In other business, board members approved the master planning proposal from Akron-based GPD Group who has been tasked with developing an updated master plan for the district.

The scope of work will include providing master planning services consisting of validations of assessments of the district’s current school facilities and sites as necessary, development of a master facilities improvement plan and recommendation for the implementation/phasing of the master plan.

Services will include the collection of data regarding current facilities, assessing the current state of the district’s school buildings from the perspectives of infrastructure, functionality, and aesthetics, development of preliminary programming for each building taking into account current and future state-of-the-art education practices as they relate to facility usage and the creation of conceptual/schematic drawings for proposed improvements to each building or new buildings.

Additional services that may be necessary or appropriate for the Master Plan development will include the review of enrollment projections and touring facilities recently constructed by other school districts.

The May 9 meeting was held in the West Geauga board office community room located at 8615 Cedar Road, Chesterland. The next meeting is scheduled for May 23.

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