The Press Newspaper
Massive restructuring among cash-strapped school districts has flooded area communities with an inventory of shuttered buildings.
Some of those old school buildings have found new life in the community. Still, some say, the area is reaching its saturation point for this increasingly familiar type of real estate sales.
The most recent local example of this trend is the old Camper Building on Main Street in Genoa that went on the auction block earlier this March. Scott J. Bowe, of Woodville, submitted the winning $10,000 bid, but the property sale has not closed yet, according to Chad Brough, of Chad Brough Auctioneer Services of Oak Harbor.
When contacted last week, Bowe said he expected the sale of the building that’s been under the ownership of the North Point Education Service Center for years to go through in about two weeks. He is unsure what he plans to do with the building at present.
Bowe, an entrepreneur involved with business ventures with family members, said they have a number of rentals and often buy foreclosed homes, renovate them and return them to the market.
“We’re not sure what we’re going to do. We’re not going to tear it down though. We love old school buildings,” Bowe said. “We live in a 110-year-old school building that we renovated in Rollersville and we own the Old Lime Building in Woodville that we renovated.”
A changeover from school building to business venture is part of a growing trend in Ottawa County. The real estate opportunities have sprung up as school districts consolidate services and close buildings to control the rising costs of educating their students.
Five elementary buildings have been closed by the Genoa and Oak Harbor school districts in the last two years alone. The movement brings a number of concerns for neighbors and municipalities affected by the closings and sales.
Circumstances involving the old Camper building didn’t foster a friendly feeling among Genoa village officials. North Point staff left at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year without a word to the village.
Genoa Village Administrator Kevin Gladden said he heard rumors from North Point staff about the then-upcoming move. As a result, he sent a letter to the North Point superintendent. To this date, he has received no response either verbal or in writing.
North Point’s departure means the loss of income tax from around 10 employees as well as utility usage, Gladden said. But the single most concern on the minds of village leaders is what is going to happen to the vacant building now.
In late fall, North Point Superintendent Douglas Crooks told The Press the education service intended to sell the building. He also apologized for any missteps with Genoa while the transition took place. He said twice then he planned to contact Genoa officials. He never did.
“This took months,” Crooks said the about solidifying an agreement with the Benton-Carroll-Salem School District to buy the old Graytown Elementary School. “A lot longer than we thought it was going to take.”
North Point paid $8,000 for the two-story Graytown building.
The old Graytown School offers more vital amenities for the North Point school program including a cafeteria, gymnasium and handicap accessibility, said Andrea Smith, North Point’s regional director.
In all, the Graytown property encompasses about nine acres. North Point officials originally wanted to split the property and sell off about seven acres. That’s not possible though because of the water well location, Crooks said.
The other land is to be leased by the Benton Township officials to create soccer fields and other play areas, Crooks said. “We are all benefitting from this,” Crooks said.
Still, Gladden believes the village will be left holding the bag when the complaints start regarding the Camper building.
“What are they telling the people who bought it? What do they plan to do with it?” Gladden asked. He named a number of problems, including no elevator, asbestos, restroom issues and zoning issues. The land is zoned residential and may require a zoning change.
“The best thing that could have happened to that building is no one got it … and North Point would have to deal with closing it or getting rid of it,” Gladden said.
The village had no interest in buying the building. It already owns other private buildings including the Dairy Queen, the senior center on Main Street and the old hardware store next to the center that sits empty.
Bowe’s purchase of the building brings optimism to the village’s plight though. The company’s track record shows successful history of delving into a project and maintaining a steady pace until the building becomes a beneficial part of the community.
“A little work, a lot of work – we’re used to putting in the time,” Bowe said.
One of the more recent success stories is the schools conversion of the former Brunner Elementary on West Street i0n Genoa to Brunner Campus, a community center.
A variety of daytime and evening activities are held at the campus. The Genoa School District closed the old Brunner Elementary two years ago along with Allen-Central when the new Genoa Elementary opened at the central school district campus on Genoa-Clay Center Road in Clay Township.
Genoa Board of Education sold the building to businessman Gary Moritz and his wife, Joy, for $30,000 in early 2012.
The community, as it turns out, has benefited a multitude of ways from the transaction. Brunner Campus hosts Bible studies, quilting clubs and various recreational leagues as well as offers hall space for everything from baby showers to family reunions.
“We feel it was a God thing,” said Joy Moritz, who runs the Bible study classes with her husband. “It’s not like it was on our bucket list to buy a school.”
The demolition of the decaying Allen Central school building prompted the two to seriously consider buying the real estate. “Gary plays basketball and they were losing their playing site,” she explained during a fall fest.
Brunner Campus also recently became home to Genoa’s WSOS Head Start Program. WSOS had to find a new home when North Point officials informed them of their pending move, according to Moritz.
Carroll Township officials hope to bring the same results for their residents by purchasing the old Carroll Elementary building off SR 19. The building will fit into the township plan, as it sits across from the current complex including a community hall and police station. That sale, however, has been in a holding pattern for a number of months as environmental tests continue.
The last of the B-C-S shuttered buildings, Rocky Ridge Elementary, sold for the least – $5,000 at auction in early 2012.
That out-of-state bidder turned a $55,000 profit by later selling the structure to James R. Zinser, a Las Vegas doctor who is an Oak Harbor native. Zinser had once considered remodeling the school building into apartments, said Bob Vogel, of Batdorff Real Estate, the agent showing the building. However, the doctor’s life has taken some dramatic turns over the last year and he wants to sell, Vogel said.
The original asking price was $99,500. He lowered it to $89,500 last fall. This month, the price fell to $79,900, Vogel said. Vogel has had some nibbles on the property; at least one seems serious.
The new problem in part, Vogel said, is the area has become oversaturated with old school buildings.
This is a second wave of old buildings to become available in recent years. Genoa schools sold its old high school building years ago to a Christ Community Church. Port Clinton schools later followed suit, selling Portage Elementary to a church and the Catawba Elementary to businessman Jim Stouffer. The recently shuttered middle school and Jefferson Elementary in the Port Clinton School System were torn down last year. A green space now sits there across the street from the Ottawa County Courthouse.