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.