By Jon Moffett
The former middle school building has been vacant since it closed in 2007.
AUSTINTOWN — The school district has made its New Year’s resolution to sell the former middle-school building now that state agencies have deemed the property clean of contaminants.
The Mahoning Avenue structure has been vacant since summer 2007, when it closed in favor of the new middle school on Raccoon Road.
A land developer had agreed to purchase the building and property for $2.6 million in 2005 but backed out of the deal when it was determined several underground fuel storage tanks at the bus garage on the property had leaked and possibly contaminated the soil.
The district had communicated with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the state fire marshal’s Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations that it had a plan to clean up the property. The district has since received a letter from the Ohio EPA saying no further action was needed.
Barb Kliner, the former district treasurer who retired Dec. 31 and was the primary liaison between the district and the state, explained the process.
Kliner said EPA analysts drilled wells deep into the ground to collect soil samples. Each layer of dirt was then inspected for contaminants. Groundwater also was tested, she said.
The district then contacted its lawyer “because to sell public property, there is a whole series of steps to go through,” Kliner said. “And since it’s been so long since we tried to do this before, in all fairness, we have to start over.”
A deal between the district and a company called This Land is My Land Ltd. to conduct the cleanup fell through after the latter said the district was guilty of a “pattern of nondisclosure.”
Kliner, who was indirectly thrown to the forefront of the issue by several changes at the superintendent position, said the district had followed the guidelines for the fuel tanks at the time. But the guidelines had changed, Kliner said.
So has the economy, which will affect the price tag. So what exactly is the asking price?
“Obviously I’d like to get $50 million, but that’s not a realistic number,” Kliner said, smiling. “We have to look at what the market is, and obviously it is a little bit lower now.”
Whatever the asking price, Superintendent Vince Colaluca and the district hopes the sale comes soon.
Though the district is not responsible to heat the building, it is still responsible for its maintenance.
“We don’t put a lot of money into the building right now because we know it’s for sale. There’s no heat running or water going into it,” Colaluca said.
“But we do have to keep a security system on and, unfortunately, the Austintown police have to put a lot of attention to it because we’ve had a lot of vandals, and a building not under occupancy is going to have that.”
Money from the sale would go toward the permanent- improvement fund, Colaluca said.
Dan Bokesch, longtime middle school principal and current director of curriculum for the district, said the sale “would be a major plus for our community and for our school district.”
Colaluca said the property’s location — on Mahoning Avenue and close to state Route 46 and Interstate 80 — makes it prime real estate.
“Our major concern is to do something for the community and to put something in there that would be beneficial for all the people of Austintown to use,” Kliner added.