NEW EAGLE – Appraisals have come in much lower than Ringgold School District officials expected on two aging, closed schools that are at the center of a divisive debate on whether or not to reopen them to replace the district’s middle school, the school board president said Wednesday.
Barone, Murtha, Shonberg & Associates have set market values at $110,000 for the former Donora Elementary Center and $150,000 for one in neighboring Monongahela as the school board proceeds with plans to construct a new, nearly $28 million middle school, district records show.
“They came in so low because of all the work that needs to be done on them,” Ringgold board President Mariann Bulko said during a break in a school board meeting Thursday.
“The report states the value would have been higher if the property was vacant,” Bulko said.
The school board is expected to discuss the appraisals in a future committee meeting before deciding on what to do with the closed schools.
Director Carol Flament said she would prefer to “donate them to the towns.”
With seven of the nine Ringgold board seats on the ballot in the spring primary, a slate of candidates has lined up to campaign for the reopening of the neighborhood schools to split up grades 5 through 8 and close Ringgold Middle School in Finleyville because it needs costly repairs. The existing board majority narrowly voted in December to cease efforts to reopen the Donora and Monongahela schools and build a new middle school in Carroll Township, if Gov. Tom Corbett lifts his moratorium on providing state subsidies for public school construction projects.
Thursday’s school board meeting was one in a string that included heated arguments among school directors over a variety of issues that have come to the table. Even members of the audience Thursday had to be quieted as the board argued over verifying the administration’s projections on the cost of operating two middle schools, rather than one.
Flament brought a motion to the table to hire the Cypher & Cypher accounting firm of Canonsburg to verify the district business manager’s projections that it would cost taxpayers an additional $440,000 to operate the Donora and Monongahela schools than it would to supply one middle school. Her motion passed in a 5-2 vote, with directors Larry Mauro and Robert Smith casting the no votes. Director Charles Smith was absent from the meeting.
Mauro said he never questioned whether the cost estimates were “accurate, but realistic.”
Bulko said the $440,000 doesn’t take into consideration the cost it would take to update the heating, plumbing and electrical services in the buildings.
“Right now, this board has proceeded with building a new school,” she said.
Bulko said that could change if voters choose to elect a different majority this year.
During public comment, Carroll resident Alex Ferguson pleaded with the board to donate the Donora and Monongahela athletic fields to the communities if directors would decide to sell the two closed schools.
Bulko said the lease agreement with the fields in Donora would require a new owner to donate them to the borough.
“I’m sure that we can work that out,” she said. “Your point is well taken.”