By Lance Mihm
ST. MARYS -- Noble Township Trustees topped three other bidders to purchase the Noble Elementary School from St. Marys school district for $65,000 during an auction Saturday.
The St. Marys school board still has the right to reject all bids and will vote on the high bid at its July 13 meeting.
Auctioneer Tim Oehrtman requested $100,000 to start the bidding, and after a brief silence, Noble Township trustee James Johns bid $1.
Three others also began to bid, with two dropping out early. The auction became a two-man battle between the trustees and Jeff Ray of Ray's Recycling, with bids increasing in $1,000 increments until Ray dropped out.
Ray would not comment on what the company had wanted to do with the building and property. Noble Township trustees have plans to turn the area into a park district and rent out the building. The trustees first asked the St. Marys school board in April to sell the school to the township for $1. The school board shot down the request, saying it wanted to test the market through an auction.
The Noble community showed an overwhelming amount of support in helping the trustees to get the winning bid. Of the $65,000 bid, $53,000 was donated through private donations, the trustees said.
"We had the support of the people and that was who we were doing this for," Johns said. "It helped reaffirm to us that we were doing the right thing. When you get that many people supporting you, you know you are doing the right thing."
Trustees now are asking the school board to reject the bid and sell the school to the township for $1.
"They have to see now that people wanted the township to have that school," Johns said. "They still have a chance to do the right thing that already should have been done, but I doubt that they do."
School board members only said that they would discuss and consider the township's latest proposal.
"My heart says to give it to them," school board member Darren Caywood said Sunday. "It's something we will have to take a long, hard look at. We just sold Moulton Elementary School and that is still fresh in everyone's mind. What would be said if we gave them the school for $1?"
Moulton school was sold for $105,000 to veterinarian Virgil Brown of Moulton, who has not yet done anything with that building or property.
"My concern is we have to do what is best for the whole district," school board member Craig Gottschalk said. "I'm concerned with what the other bidders would have to say if we gave them the school for $1.
Township trustees have said they believe the 800-plus township voters would not approve any future levy if the township did not get the school for $1.
"That is something we have to consider," Gottschalk responded. "It seems there is no right decision, only two wrong decisions."
The township had applied for $50,000 from the Clean Ohio Grant to help pay for the property and conversion to a park district. Township clerk Steve Schamp said the community lost the grant, because the township could not get a firm commitment from the school district.
"We finished 16th of the 17 applying for the grant," Schamp said. "We were told it was directly because the school board would not give us a firm commitment. If we would have got at least a right to first refusal on the property, it would have helped. But we could not even get that. The only thing the school district would sign was something saying we intended to bid on the property."
The township had operated and funded the Noble school from 1937 to 1958, when an operating levy failed by three votes and the school was turned over to the St. Marys school district. St. Marys school board closed the Noble school this year due to the high costs to fix water and sewer problems.