Hilliard Northwest News

Site for third high school

District sells 124 acres to Rockford Homes

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Hilliard City Schools officials have accepted an offer from Rockford Homes to purchase a 124-acre parcel at 4617 Leppert Road that the district purchased a decade ago as a potential site for a third high school.

Bradley High School opened in 2009 on Walker Road, leaving the district with a sizable piece of real estate between Leppert and Cosgray roads and east of Homestead Park with no viable school-related purpose.

The school board unanimously adopted a resolution April 22 authorizing the administration to sign a sale agreement with Rockford Homes for $40,000 per acre.

The district will receive $4,960,000 for the sale, less a 3-percent brokerage fee.

The sale is contingent upon Rockford Homes receiving the desired rezoning for the parcel, board members said.

The agreement includes a 240-day contingency.

"All the due diligence is upon Rockford Homes," district spokeswoman Amanda Morris said.

Rockford Homes is expected to apply to the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission, and ultimately City Council, to achieve the rezoning required for residential development, as well as water and sewer services.

About 122 of the 124 acres are in Hilliard; the other two are in Norwich Township.

The sale reflects a net loss for the school district, which purchased the tract from the Grener family in 2003 for $50,000 per acre.

After purchasing the land, voters in the district rejected two bond issues, leaving the district unable to build a third high school on the tract.

Ultimately, the district purchased 114 acres on Walker Road from the Emmelhainz family for $25,000 per acre, according to district officials. Upon voter approval of a bond issue, the district built Bradley High School.

Board members held numerous closed executive sessions earlier this year to discuss the purchase or sale of real estate, but school board President Andy Teater would not confirm at the time that any offers on the land were made or whether the tract was the subject of the executive sessions.

Board member Paul Lambert said April 23 the board's decision could be viewed as "odd."

"It might seem odd that someone who has been vocal about slowing residential growth would vote to sell school property to a developer, but this is $5 million the district can use toward (needed improvements)," Lambert said.

Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt said April 23 he was not aware the school board had accepted the offer until ThisWeek inquired about his view on the issue.

"I find it somewhat shocking ... (and) somewhat hypocritical," Schonhardt said. "The board comes to us opposing what other home builders have advanced, then it sells to a home builder?"

Schonhardt said the city has a "good relationship" with Rockford Homes and intends to contact executives to learn about the company's initial proposals for the site.

City Council President Brett Sciotto agreed with the mayor's assessment.

"Given the school district's strident opposition (to) residential development in the city of Hilliard, it certainly seems inconsistent to turn around and sell land they own to a residential home builder," Sciotto said.

Hilliard Economic Development Director David Meeks said he was disappointed the sale likely meant the site will not be used for sporting purposes.

The city had targeted the site as a campus to host regional and national tournaments for intramural and high school athletics events.

"Those would attract large numbers of people to support our small businesses and hotels," Meeks said.

Lambert shared more of his views about the land sale April 23 on his blog.

"All things considered, it doesn't make sense to continue paying debt service on several million dollars in a futile attempt to arrest development in our school district," Lambert wrote. "Better to put that money to work."

Assistant Superintendent Tim Hamilton said proceeds from the sale would be used to fund numerous permanent improvement projects yet to be identified and prioritized.

"But our permanent-improvement needs exceed our permanent-improvement funds," Hamilton said. "(The $5 million) will balance out those needs."

Examples include the need to replace roofs and blacktop surfaces at buildings on a rotating basis throughout the district, Hamilton said.

"We're always looking at what permanent improvements are needed," he said.

Hamilton said the district would asses immediate needs after the sale is complete and begin the bidding process for identified projects.

Teater, board member Heather Keck and a Rockford Homes representative did not return calls seeking comment.

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