Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Demolition halted MetroParks wants building

Resolution gives old school reprieve

By Jennifer Edwards
he Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. — Demolition began Monday — then was abruptly halted Tuesday — on the 115-year-old schoolhouse at Cox and Tylersville roads that township and county officials are bickering over.

[photo] MetroParks will take possession of the schoolhouse
(Michael Snyder photos)
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Demolition stopped because Butler County MetroParks unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday to take and preserve the schoolhouse, because West Chester officials don't want it.

“I just got a panicked call from the commissioners, saying do not demolish the building, they might have another plan” said Scott Harris, construction deputy for the Butler County Engineer's Office. “So I am in a holding pattern now. It's been an interesting situation with this schoolhouse, that's for sure, but it's not too late. It can be saved.”

On Monday, construction crews broke out windows and busted holes in the schoolhouse in preparation for tearing the building down. They also removed a staircase and banister, ripped off doors and tore out a sandstone block bearing the date the building was constructed. That stone will be preserved.

But the schoolhouse's former owner, Jim Dudley, did not know demolition had begun and called police Tuesday to alert them to what he assumed was vandalism there. An officer went to the schoolhouse to file a report but didn't write one after construction workers there told them they had begun demolition, West Chester Assistant Police Chief Gil Flick said.

[photo] Windows in the schoolhouse were broken before demolition began.
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A furious Mr. Dudley said Tuesday he was “sick and tired” of the fighting over the schoolhouse between the township and county officials. He sold the corner parcel of his farm containing the schoolhouse to the county earlier this year and is negotiating a sale with drug store chain Walgreen's for the remainder of the corner land.

“They are going to get a lot of flak from this if they tear it down,” Mr. Dudley said. “I have done everything I can do, and it just seems like you can't get any straight answers.”

The flap over the schoolhouse, built in 1887, began late this summer when Butler County officials backed out of a previous agreement with West Chester leaders to pave a road into the Voice of America Park. The road is necessary to safely move the schoolhouse, township officials contend. County leaders say it can be moved over a dirt lane.

The county can't afford to pave the road now and also pay about $300,000 to move the schoolhouse onto the park, where it was to be renovated into a nature center, because of cost overruns on widening Cox Road.

The county is spending $4.3 million to widen Cox Road to five lanes from Tylersville to Hamilton-Mason Road as commercial development booms there. The schoolhouse must be moved or torn down to make way.

Last month, West Chester trustees instructed Administrator Dave Gully to have the schoolhouse torn down if it came down to save it instead of having the county pave the road. Trustees said the road paving is necessary as new businesses emerge along Cox Road adjacent to Interstate 75.

Mr. Gully asked Mr. Harris Monday to start demolition immediately. Mr. Harris also received a letter from the commissioners echoing that, but said Tuesday that demolition could not start until asbestos tests return in about another week.

Preliminary demolition began, Mr. Harris said, because “Mr. Gully said he wanted demolition of the schoolhouse started so the decision couldn't be reversed.”

Mr. Gully said he is pushing for quick demolition because he is tired of the constant delays on the project, pointing out it has cost the county — ultimately taxpayers — about a half-million dollars in project overruns.

West Chester already is restoring a historic schoolhouse, located on Station Road, he added, and will pay $2.4 million to restore an old barn in Fairfield, and move it to Beckett Park.

“Last week nobody wanted to save this (Dudley) schoolhouse,” Mr. Gully said. “Now it's a national treasure. Why keep dragging this thing on and making a big issue of it? Why not just tear it down today and haul it off the site in little pieces of brick and leave behind the cleared site smoking with dust?”

But Mr. Fox and area historians say they want the building saved because so few of West Chester's oldest buildings are left. Now it may be used as an activity center and/or boating house, said Mike Muska, MetroParks director.



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