By Dave Niinemets
NEWPORT- Discussions of a purchase of A.D. Owens Elementary School to allow a Newport dairy to expand are in the early stages, though such a sale is far from certain.
Neighboring Trauth Dairy recently met with city and school district officials to discuss the possibility of buying the York Street school property for expansion. The school educates 600 Newport Independent Schools pupils.
It is one of several potential options as the dairy tries to cope with growth and future changes to Monmouth Street.
"We've had one preliminary discussion with the city and Trauth," said Newport Schools Superintendent Dan Sullivan. "There seemed to be an interest."
Trauth Vice President Steve Trauth said that one discussion was nothing definitive. He said any expansion by Trauth would depend on what the city wants to do.
"We're on a continuous expansion mode," said Mr. Trauth. "We're just exploring all the options. There's nothing definitive on doing it, it's just exploratory."
Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini agreed. He said the A.D. Owens option is just one consideration. He said another might be to work with Cinergy to take over property it uses for a transfer station. Mr. Sullivan said if a transaction did happen, a lot of other problems would have to be worked out first. For one, what to do with the 600 students at the school. He said a new school would have to be built and finding the money and the location for that would be tricky. He estimates a new school would cost $10 million or more, so the price would have to be right for the district to sell.
The district already is paying off bonds and interest for its middle school. And Fourth Street Elementary School is in need of renovation while the district must cope with dropping enrollment there.
"It would take a lot of things to make this happen and the top one would be money," said Mr. Sullivan. "Quite frankly, we don't have any bonding power right now."
Then there's the issue of managing during the time a new school would be built.
"I would guess it would take 18 months to 24 months to complete," said Mr. Sullivan. "I've got to make sure I have a place to educate 600 kids."
But Mr. Trauth and Mr. Ciafardini both say the district shouldn't get too far ahead of itself. It is only one consideration and any such move will likely not be coming in the near future.
For the city, the biggest concern is to keep Trauth happy. In the 1980s, the company nearly moved out of town because it couldn't get cooperation from the city, according to Mr. Trauth. Mr. Ciafardini said the city would make the effort to work with the dairy this time.
"You want to keep longtime businesses like Trauth in the city," said Mr. Ciafardini. "You want to work through and understand their plans and needs and try to accommodate them."
Mr. Trauth said the company, which employs 415 people and has been in Newport since 1920, would like to stay where it is.
"As long as the cooperation is there, you don't want to leave your base," he said. "This is such a central location, we're able to get to anywhere."
Mr. Ciafardini said the options will continue to be explored.
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