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The results are in, and they reflect much of what stakeholders have already discussed in previous public meetings regarding the fate of the Newbury Local Schools’ property.

Dione DeMitro of Burges and Burges Strategists, the facilitator of the community input initiative that started with a May 28 brainstorming session, presented the findings of a survey that ran June 3-7 during the Newbury Board of Education’s final meeting last week.

The Newbury school district has since closed and joined West Geauga Local Schools in a territory transfer as of July 1. The West Geauga Board of Education will have the final say on the decision making process of the Newbury facilities.

In her presentation to the Newbury BOE on June 29, Ms. DeMitro explained that key takeaways from the survey results were much of what the board members and community have already acknowledged; that no one wants to see the facilities sit empty and have the property become an eyesore as well as that, while participants expressed that they favored Newbury Township taking ownership of the property, there is also concern regarding the feasibility of such an option and what the impact would be on the township in doing so.

Ms. DeMitro also noted that through surveys and community meetings, it is evident that there are various options available for redeveloping the school property.

Looking at the process

Using results from the initial brainstorming survey that ran from May 20 to June 2, Ms. DeMitro used popular themes, like turning some of the buildings into recreation or community centers, public or private bus garages or other public or private developments, to format the latest survey to gauge what impact different scenarios the community believed would have on seven different categories.

The impact categories included how the suggested scenarios would influence the financial stability of the new West Geauga school district, educational impact on the students, aesthetics, future tax revenue, property value, quality of life and economic development of the property.

Participants rated the impact of 17 scenarios on a scale of positive, negative or neutral.

The 17 scenarios included: demolishing all buildings; converting all facilities into a recreation center; implementing a public safety training facility; private housing development; private retail development; public-private partnerships, like dorm rooms for Kent State University Geauga Campus in Burton or use for Curtain 440; two scenarios for a recreation center involving the former middle and high schools; two scenarios for a community center involving the former middle and high schools; converting the former middle school into a library; converting the former middle school into a fine arts building; repurposing the land for community athletic fields; converting the bus garage into an indoor pool; creating a private bus garage; creating a garage for township vehicles; or using the property as a transportation hub for West Geauga.

Ms. DeMitro explained, however, that the presented scenarios in the survey were not supposed to be “all-encompassing” and that the survey itself is not intended to be statistically valid.

“This is a very small sample size, and it doesn’t represent everybody in the community, but that wasn’t our intention from the beginning,” she said. “Our intention from the beginning was to make sure that we were giving a vehicle or avenue for people to be able to put some of their ideas forth, for them to understand the criteria that the [West Geauga] school district was going to use in making their decisions moving forward and [to try] to give people an opportunity to say out of all of the choices that are pushed forward, which are the things they’re in favor of.”

The survey gained input from just 47 participants, Ms. DeMitro said, with 40 percent of respondents stating they were from Newbury schools, 15 percent stating they were from West Geauga schools, 40 percent stating “other” and 5 percent choosing not to specify.

West Geauga BOE members addressed the percentages of respondents during their June 24 meeting, stating that the district should only be looking at data from residents of the two school districts.

West Geauga BOE Vice President Chet Ramey suggested that the 45 percent not listed as from the school districts might be alumni, and West Geauga BOE member Ben Kotowski added that it might be people or organizations that have interest in using or redeveloping the facilities.

Ms. DeMitro addressed the issue at the Newbury BOE meeting and presented that when looking at the data from only Newbury and West Geauga community members, only three scenarios saw a change in results: converting the garage to an indoor pool, creating a private bus garage and creating a public bus garage.

She said that when looking at the total results, respondents stated that the indoor pool would have an average of a neutral impact on the community, but with just the Newbury and West Geauga results, this changed to an average of a positive impact. Private and public bus garage scenarios originally averaged out to have a negative impact on the community with the total results, but when looking at just Newbury and West Geauga, most respondents stated that they would have neutral impacts.

All other scenario impacts remained the same, she said.

Crunching numbers

Ms. DeMitro briefly explained each scenario during her presentation, looking at the results from all respondents.

According to the survey results, demolishing all buildings received an overall negative impact averaged across all criteria at 52 percent with most respondents indicating that it would have a negative impact on the district’s financial stability, future tax revenue, property value and quality of life.

Using all buildings for a recreation center received an overall positive impact at 63 percent, with most respondents indicating that it would have a positive impact on quality of life.

Using every building for a public safety training center had an overall neutral impact at 65 percent.

Redeveloping the property for housing, apartments or condominiums received an overall negative impact at 42 percent with most respondents indicating that it would have a negative educational impact on students.

Redeveloping the property for private retail had an overall positive impact on the criteria at 42 percent with most respondents indicating that it would have a positive impact on quality of life.

Entering into a long-term public-private partnership received an overall positive impact at 69 percent, with most respondents indicating that it would have a positive impact on future tax revenue for the district.

Using the former middle school for a community center received an overall positive impact at 52 percent with most people indicating that it would have a positive impact on quality of life. Using both the former middle school and the high school for a community center received an overall positive impact at 44 percent.

Using the former middle school for a recreation center received an overall positive impact at 61 percent, and using both the middle and high schools for a recreation center received an overall positive impact at 52 percent.

Using the former middle school as a library received an overall positive impact at 48 percent with most people indicating it would have a positive educational impact on students.

Using the former middle school as a fine arts building received an overall positive impact at 73 percent with most people indicating it would have a positive impact on students’ education, aesthetics, property value and quality of life.

Repurposing the land for community athletic fields received an overall positive impact at 45 percent.

Using the buildings for an indoor pool received an overall neutral impact at 43 percent.

Using the bus garage for private use would have an overall negative impact at 53 percent with most people indicating it would have a negative impact on students’ education, aesthetics, property value and economic development.

Using the bus garage for township use received an overall negative impact at 54 percent with most people indicating it would have a negative impact on property value.

Finally, West Geauga using the bus garage as a transportation hub received an overall neutral impact at 47 percent.

“I think it represents what we’ve been hearing,” Newbury board member Kimya Matthews said after hearing the breakdown of the results, adding that it matches what people have told her directly and what she said she’s heard throughout Newbury Township.

Newbury BOE President Maggie Zock agreed, adding, “There [are] many options for what can and will need to take place in order to repurpose those buildings and [that] property.”

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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