By Kevin Kelley
Westlake City Schools Superintendent Scott Goggin confirmed Monday that the district’s new elementary school will be located on Center Ridge Road next to Westlake Porter Public Library. In comments during a Board of Education meeting, Goggin warned board members that the Center Ridge Road property has some unique construction challenges, but is still the preferred site for the new elementary school over the Parkside School site on Hilliard Boulevard.
At Monday’s meeting, all five school board members voted in favor of a landmark real estate deal between the school district and the city of Westlake. The school board vote came four days after Westlake City Council approved the same deal by a 6-0 vote, with Ward 1 Councilwoman Lynda Appel abstaining. Appel is employed by the school district as a data manager.
Leaders of the school district and city acclaimed the deal, which allows the school district to construct its new elementary school at its preferred site and provides the city with 42 acres on which to build new athletic fields and hiking trails.
No money will be exchanged in the deal, which consists of two trades:
• The school district will obtain from the city 29.4 acres on Center Ridge Road just west of Porter Library (appraised at $2,600,000) on which it will build a new elementary school. In exchange, the city will take ownership of two district-owned properties – 42 acres of wooded land off Bradley Road (valued at $1,395,000) and the now-vacant Board of Education office building at the northwest corner of Hilliard Boulevard and Dover Center Road ($1,225,000).
• The district will turn over to the city ownership of its Parkside property and lease it back to the district for $1 per year for 10 years. The school district has the option to purchase the property back for $700,000. If that option is not exercised after 10 years, the city will own the property outright. The city has the right to use the building’s gymnasium and auditorium for municipal events. In exchange, the city pledges to make up to $1 million in road improvements, such as traffic lights, near the intersection of Center Ridge and Dover Center roads in anticipation of increased traffic at the new elementary school. The city will also reduce fees to the district related to the construction of the new school.
The new elementary school will replace the district’s four buildings – Bassett, Dover, Hilliard and Holly Lane elementary schools – which will be demolished.
Goggin said soil and underground rock at the Center Ridge Road property will present construction challenges and require about $750,000 in additional site work. But the location, he said, is still preferable to the alternate site – Parkside School, which currently houses the district administrative offices and auxiliary educational programs.
The cost to demolish the Parkside School building to make way for a new school are estimated at $400,000, he noted.
The Center Ridge Road site is great for the new elementary school because it’s in the center of Westlake, the superintendent said, with the district’s intermediate, middle and high schools nearby.
“It is as centralized as you can be,” Goggin said of the location.
Goggin said the deal will benefit the entire community. Although the various properties involved will change hands, they will remain under the ownership of Westlake taxpayers, he noted.
Mayor Dennis Clough attended the school board meeting and thanked school district leaders for their work at reaching a deal.
“I think we should be excited as a community,” the mayor told school board members. “I think we should all be excited that we’ve come together and shown that we work together on a regular basis.”
At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Clough described the deal as “a win for the schools, a win for the city, a win for the community.” He said it gives the city greater flexibility in planning for its recreation needs.
Council President Mike Killeen, who had halted an initial version of a deal after questioning earlier appraisals, said both sides are happy with the final deal.
Killeen said the deal, which came after several months of negotiations, was “fair to both parties and, more importantly, it’s fair to the citizens of Westlake.”
What’s next? Construction of the new elementary school will begin in August, Goggin said. The building will be ready for classes at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Property at the Hilliard, Holly Lane and Bassett elementary schools locations will be utilized for sports fields for teams in the district’s athletic programs, he said.
City leaders anticipate asking voters in the Nov. 7 general election to extend an existing income tax specified for recreational purposes of one-eighth of 1 percent (0.00125) for 25 additional years. The funding would pay for roughly $20 million in new recreation amenities and about $8 to $10 million for a new community services center.