Much is yet to be decided about Defiance’s former high school, but Defiance City Council agreed Tuesday night to allow the municipal government to negotiate for its purchase.
A related ordinance was one of nine legislative items handled by council Tuesday. Council members also approved raises for future member and mayoral terms (see related story) and received an update on city finances (see related story on page A2).
The fate of Defiance’s former high school will be discussed by the city school board during its meeting tonight, and in anticipation of that, council approved an ordinance, 6-0, allowing city administrator Jeff Leonard to discuss its purchase. (Ward 2 Councilman John Hancock, a bus driver for the school district, abstained from the vote.)
The goal of Mayor Mike McCann’s administration is to delay demolition of the school until a new purpose can be secured for the building, constructed in 1918.
Depending upon what the school board decides, council would be asked to approve more detailed legislation in the future to acquire the property.
With an eye toward that, Ward 3 Councilman Dave Plant noted the need for the city to have clear title to the property, clarity about potential environmental issues and control over what happens on it.
The issue came to council’s table last week when a plan was presented by Dan Michel, on behalf of the Defiance Area Foundation and the Justin F. Coressel Foundation. Those groups have pledged $300,000 to pay for the building’s demolition if a new use can’t be found for the old school.
Michel proposed to keep those funds in reserve for at least five years if the city takes title to the property, or two years if the school district continues to own the building. Each proposal is contingent upon approval by the appropriate governing bodies (council and the school board).
He also said the $300,000 could be used for a project to redevelop the building. But if nothing happens, then the funds would be used to demolish the building.
Before Tuesday’s vote to enter into negotiations, Mayor Mike McCann made an impassioned plea for the city’s acquisition of the school property.
He compared the building with the historic fortgrounds at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee rivers, asking why that property isn’t just sold.
“It’s quite valuable,” he said. “Somebody could build a really nice house out there. Why don’t we sell the library? They could probably take all that money, build another library and have all kinds of neat stuff. But I know the answer to that question. That’s part of our soul, and that building to some degree is part of our soul. And if you don’t have soul, you don’t have anything.”
McCann said the city toured the building Monday morning to consider potential security and maintenance issues. He indicated that utility costs would not be high before the building is repurposed, as it would be winterized and not heated.
Although Tuesday’s legislation was only to allow property acquisition negotiations, resident Tom Mekus, 1810 Waterford Lane, proposed a collaboration of city and county governments to establish a historical museum in the old school.
Trish Speiser, 29231 County Road 424, who represents various historical groups, advocated for cooperation to find a use for the building.
“... we would like to build more bridges and do less sweeping away of the past,” she said. “... we really hope that this school project can be a good bridge-building project for all the historical groups in town and for our governments — for the city, for the county, for the school board and all entities involved. ... the only way we are going to keep this all flowing, is if we are all working together. And we really want to do that.
Ralph Hahn, 901 Wilhelm St., of the Save Our School Committee also favored a team approach, with his group fairly represented.
“It would be better if we all worked together instead of separately,” he said before council’s vote Tuesday. “I don’t know where this is going to go if you adopt to go into negotiations with the school board. I assume that there’s going to be a panel or a committee put in place to study repurposing the 1918 building, possibly for five years. If that happens, I am requesting that at least two people from the Save Our School Committee be on that panel or study group.”
In non-legislative business Tuesday:
• McCann informed council that the city plans to hire the firm Mannik Smith Group to design a remedy for riverbank erosion at the water plant. The design cost alone is $43,035, he said. Among other things, the mayor also noted that Leonard was attending a water quality meeting in Cleveland.
• Waxler asked about enforcement of a nuisance notification at a business along East Second Street, just east of the Auglaize River bridge. Finance director John Lehner indicated that much of the junk there has been removed, while law director Sean O’Donnell said the city is working with the landlord on the matter.
• Lehner requested a study session at council’s May 28 meeting to discuss a vehicle lease proposal by Enterprise Fleet Management.
• council met in executive session to discuss the purchase of property for a public purpose.