The Little Miami Board of Education recently took the initial steps to sell the former Morrow Elementary School.
Board members voted 4-0 at their Feb. 28 meeting to advertise the building for public auction. It has been closed since 2009. Board member Nancy Journeay was absent from the meeting due to illness.
The LM board arrived at its decision after several months of gathering input from community members and local leaders as part of the ongoing master planning process. This process included a public meeting specifically held to discuss options for Morrow in October 2016. Community members in attendance said that they regretted that the building had closed and fallen into disrepair, and would like to see the site be used again in some fashion.
But as discussions progressed, using the Morrow site again appeared to be an expensive proposition. At a work session held Jan. 31, Christie Boron from Emersion Design/Fanning Howey told the board that her team had completed an assessment of the building. Due to the poor condition of the interior, including extensive water damage and the presence of asbestos and mold, Boron said it would cost the district approximately $10.4 million to bring Morrow back online as a habitable building, and additional dollars to make it a school again.
She also said that if the district were to explore other options for the site, the land parcel itself presented several challenges: It is small in area (five acres), is bisected by a public road, and is in a flood plain. Boron also said that demolition of the building would cost the district $500,000.
When faced with unused property no longer needed for school purposes, a board of education is limited in what it can do by Ohio Revised Code and by board policy.
A school board is required to determine the value of the property in question and then is first required to sell its real property to a start-up community school operating in the district or a college-preparatory boarding school located within the territory of the district.
Since neither of those exists within the borders of Little Miami, the LM board can sell the building at a public auction and follow specific statutory requirements to divest itself of the property. If no one were to purchase the property at auction, the board is then free to dispose of the property as it sees fit. In 2013, the building and grounds were valued at $197,000.
Over the years since its closure, district administrators and board members have had several discussions with parties who said they might have interest in the building and land, but none have come forward with an offer to purchase the property.
The main block of Morrow Elementary was built in 1913, with additions made in 1939 and 1951. The building served as the area high school until a new high school was built on Welch Road in 1956. When the district was forced to close the building at the end of the 2008-09 school year due to financial challenges, the school was serving grades PreK-4.
Board members said they had a difficult time coming to the decision to auction off the property.
“It’s hard for me because I do not know what’s going to happen to it,” member Tony Niemesh said. “Is someone really going to be able to do something with it? I don’t know. But this auction is a chance for us to move forward and to fulfill a requirement from the state. It allows us greater flexibility to look at partnerships for the site that we wouldn’t be able to explore otherwise."
Board member Bobbie Grice said she agreed.
“Change is difficult for everyone,” she said. “We have listened to community members and discussed this among ourselves and the time has come to make a decision on this building. This auction will help us move forward.”
Little Miami’s legal counsel is currently drawing up documents necessary to proceed with the auction. The date for the auction will be publicly advertised.