Keystone Saved over $800,000 by Selling the Old High School to the Village!

Demolition costs were $173,000, not $373,000 according to Superintendent White.  The school was given $1 million by the state to demolish the entire structure.

LOCAL NEWS

Keystone Schools hopes to settle bill dispute with LaGrange

LAGRANGE — Keystone Schools Superintendent Dan White said Friday he hopes to continue an open discussion with village officials about sharing utility costs for a gym in the former Keystone school buildings now serving as village offices.

The use of the gym became the subject of controversy after village officials said Keystone Schools was not paying its fair share of the cost to keep the gym lit and heated. The gym use by school athletes had been agreed upon in the purchase contract between the village and the school district when the village bought the former buildings, and a formula for use fees was spelled out in the contract.

White, whose first day as superintendent was Aug. 1, said he knew about the controversy from his first day on the job. Two days later, on Aug. 3, he said “student-athletes and coaches were unable to access the building” and found the gymnasium locked.

White said the district had requested invoices for its share of the utility bills since September, but those were not delivered until November. Those were the first bills the district received, he said, and such a bill is required for the district to be legally able to cut a check to the village.

Village officials said Thursday they received “a small check” for utilities from the district in November, though White disputed that the amount was “small.”

The bill also was for more than the district thought it owed based on the contract, White said.

The district sold the former Liberty Elementary School and the former Keystone Middle School, football field and bus garage. The district spent $373,000 to demolish the Liberty building — far less than the $1 million it would have cost to demolish all of the buildings, White said.

The purchase gave the village a new, more expansive home for its offices and police department.

“We didn’t have to spend all our money to demolish it,” White said Friday. “But then we had the additional need of gym space and the village said, ‘You can have it, just share in the utility costs,’ so we’re like ‘Great.’”

In the original Real Estate Transfer Agreement, signed Jan. 28, 2016, and provided Friday to The Chronicle-Telegram, the village agreed to purchase the former school buildings, parking areas and the Keystone football stadium and bus garage “as-is” for $1.

For 20 years after transfer, the agreement states, the district rights “shall include the non-exclusive use of access and parking areas” and other areas during the day and after school “for athletic and other activities.”

The bus garage was leased back to the schools for $1 and the district retained exclusive use of the stadium and bus garage and related parking areas. All of this was rent-free, but a clause also noted that the district “will pay for its own operating costs in connection with its use” of so-called reserved use areas.

Additionally, the agreement states: “the District and Village will agree upon a utility cost based upon the energy for lights and heat during the times when the interior spaces are used by the District.”

And that is where divide seems to have occurred.

White said “what’s very clear now is that our interpretation of the utility costs is not the same,” and both parties are trying to work that out.

“We looked at the formula, and from the very beginning it was clear that the mayor and Village Council think the formula is very confusing and hard to follow,” White said. “We don’t agree with what they invoiced us.”

He said the district has a different understanding of the formula for sharing utility costs, and that is one of the sticking points he said he and village officials will sit down with and hammer out at a meeting Jan. 10.

“I just want to sit down and talk it out without them locking out our student-athletes,” White said. “I want to be a good neighbor and work with them, but I have an obligation that I only want to pay our costs … without the threat of being locked out.”

LaGrange Mayor Kim Strauss on Friday declined further comment on the matter.

White said Friday he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for the village to make money off the schools. Village Council members on Thursday said the same about the schools making money off the village.

“That’s not an appropriate use of the funds of the Keystone Local School District,” White said.

Contact Dave O’Brien at 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.

Village Officials and Keystone Superintendent have Utility Discussions at old Keystone High School

LaGrange seeks help with bills

DAVE O’BRIEN / CHRONICLE

LaGRANGE — A gym at the former Keystone High School will continue to be open to Wildcat baseball and softball players for winter “open workouts,” Village Council decided by consensus Thursday.

The use of the gym became the subject of controversy after village officials said Keystone Schools was not paying its fair share of the cost of keeping the gym lit and heated. An agreement signed several years ago resulted in the schools selling the building to the village for $1 and saving on the cost of demolition.

Despite ballplayers still using the gym for open workouts, the utility bills were shouldered entirely by the village and its residents, Mayor Kim Strauss said. The village was presented with “a small check” last month to help defray the cost, he said.

“The 2,300 people who live in (the village) are who pays” the utility bills for the facility, Strauss said. What the village is trying to do, he said, is “to work out a deal that is fair, so (ballplayers) have the use of that gym exclusively.”

Parents of baseball and softball players, coaches and supporters of the sports programs who showed up at Thursday’s Council meeting said players had been locked out of the gym several times, and also were unfairly blamed for vandalism and theft there.

Keystone baseball head coach Bert Fitzgerald told Village Council he didn’t appreciate his players being blamed, especially on social media, for alleged vandalism of the building.

“It’s all unfounded,” he said. “We followed the agreement. … I was pretty offended.”

Village officials said they had kept the gym open for three years, allowing Keystone High School ballplayers to use it, without a penny shared for the cost of keeping the heat and lights on until last month, when “a small check” was received by the village, Council President Gary Kincannon said.

In the three years prior, “we never collected a penny” toward utility bills, Councilman Barry Price said.

Without discussing specifics of the agreement between the schools and the village or what was said in a meeting earlier Thursday between the two parties, Kincannon said both agreed to meet again Jan. 10 prior to the Village Council meeting that night “to go over all the statistics.”

Keystone Schools Superintendent Dan White, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, said the schools weren’t aware the bills were an issue until they were sent an invoice.

At no time during the conversation did the schools want the gym locked, he said.

“We all want a strong community and obviously part of that is working together,” White said. “We want to pay our fair share of the cost of utilities. That’s fair, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Council members said they also wanted to find a solution, and didn’t want to bring attorneys into the matter.

“That just makes it worse,” said Kincannon. White agreed, saying the only way the schools would consult legal counsel would be “if our backs are to the wall.”

The village still is converting the buildings for use as the LaGrange police station and village offices, which moved in Oct. 29. Meanwhile, the village leased the bus garage on the property back to the school district for $1.

Kincannon reminded the crowd of about 30 people — many dressed in Keystone Wildcats colors — of the makeup of Village Council.

“Five of the six of us up here are Keystone graduates. Four of six played baseball. Three of six are in the Keystone Hall of Fame,” he said. “Anyone who thinks we’re here to hurt the baseball team is sadly mistaken.”

He said Council wants to make sure “the agreement going forward covers the cost of utilities in the auxiliary gym, going forward.”

“Hopefully we find a middle ground. Hopefully that’ll be on Jan. 10,” Kincannon said.

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.