Monday, April 22, 2013

Addition to the Agenda for the April 22, 2013 School Board Agenda: Land Sale

You may have noticed that the School Board has met in executive session several times recently, as provided by Ohio Revised Code 121.22(G)(2), to discuss the sale of property. The property in question is the 124 acres located between Leppert Rd and Cosgray Rd, east of Homestead Park.

Folks who have been around for a while may recall that this land was originally purchased by the District to be the site of the third high school. It was at a time when the community was growing rapidly, and the school district was growing by hundreds of kids each year. Without question, more space was needed to house students at all grade levels.

There was plenty of debate about whether we should just keep expanding the one new high school which we had built in 1989, now known as Davidson High School. The decision was made to build a second, nearly identical high school - Darby. As Davidson and Darby filled up, again the debate began about whether to add on to those two buildings, or to construct a third school. A third high school was decided on, which meant that a substantial piece of land needed to be found.

Although our school district encompasses a lot of land - about sixty square miles - a new high school couldn't be built just anywhere. First, at least 100 acres of land was needed, and preference was to find a willing seller rather than go through an eminent domain proceeding. Then the price needed to be reasonable.

One of the most complex aspects of the land search has to do with the availability of water and sewer services, and as you can imagine, a school housing a couple thousand students and staff needs a lot of both. This makes a great deal of our sixty square miles unusable since the water/sewer system effectively ends at Alton-Darby Rd, making nearly all of Brown Twp undevelopable - at least for now. However the property on Leppert Rd, which was owned by the Grener family, met all the criteria, and in 2003 it was purchased by the School Board.

For reasons that I still don't fully understand - and I'm not looking to reignite the controversy here - a movement erupted to force the School Board to not build a high school there after all. One or perhaps two bond levy issues were defeated, meaning that even with the land secure, there were no funds to construct the school building. This caused the School Board to begin a search for alternative land.

The land they found was property owned by the Emmelhainz family on Walker Rd. While this parcel is not all that near the existing water/sewer facilities, the School Board at that time felt the urgency to get the third high school built, and took the steps necessary to allow the Emmelhainz property to work. Today, Bradley High School stands on that site.

Meanwhile, the District still owns the property on Leppert Rd, representing several millions of dollars in "stranded capital." While I can make a reasonable argument that the people of Hilliard are better off letting that land remain a farm field than we would be if hundreds of new homes were to be built on it, in reality this isn't the last piece of developable land left in our school district. In fact, we are soon going to see several hundred new dwellings built on the west side of Alton-Darby Rd just south of Davis Rd. After that, there are still thousands of acres waiting to be developed.

All things considered, it doesn't make sense to continue paying debt service on several million dollars in a futile attempt to arrest development in our school district. Better to put that money to work.

After considering the options before us, we have decided to put a resolution on the agenda to consider the sale of the Leppert Rd property to Rockford Homes. They have offered $40,000/acre for the +/-124 acres, yielding about $4,960,000, less a 3% brokerage fee. As I recall, we paid $50,000/acre for this land, so we're taking a loss on the transaction, but it's a good price for the land in today's market. Remember that the land for Bradley High School was purchased for $25,000/acre.

What's going to happen with this money?  One choice might be to use it to reduce the amount of money which has to be collected in property taxes for debt service, but it wouldn't amount to much to us individually as taxpayers - maybe $60 per $100,000 of market value, and just for one year.

So it is proposed that the money be added to our Permanent Improvement Fund, and used to accelerate the long list of items on the maintenance schedule. This is authorized by the original language of the bond issue, which says the money raised could be used for "improving, constructing, reconstructing, renovating, remodeling, enlarging, furnishing and equipping (including with education and safety technology) buildings and facilities and acquiring and improving sites for school purposes."

I am in support of this sale and the proposed use of the funds, and will be voting in favor of the Resolution authorizing President Andy Teater and Treasurer Brian Wilson to sign the sale agreement.


  1. The resolution passed 5-0. We can't start spending the money however. The Buyer was granted a number of contingencies in the agreement, including up to 240 days to get appropriate zoning and development plans approved by the City of Hilliard, as well as the necessary utility services.

  2. No question in my mind that the proceeds of the sale should be used to pay down the bonds we took out to purchase the land. Especially considering we took out a loan to call the bonds. Just shaking my head.

    I wasnt here until 2009, so I'm unfamiliar with the debate. But the idea of building the 3rd high school in such close proximity to the other two was just plain dumb. There, debate over.

    And to then purchase the land before securing the financing for the structures...

    This is exactly the problem with making choices democratically: no one to hold accountable. Or maybe that's the point??? I know if my employer took a $1.3M loss on a deal like this, I would most certainly be looking for a job somewhere else.

    1. We can't just pay down the bonds, but we could use it to pay a small fraction of the debt service for one year. My opinion is that the benefit of doing so is negligible, and that it's a better use of the money to accelerate other capital expenditures ranging from parking lot and roof repair to technology replacement.

      I hope that sometime soon, the Board will spend some time examining the capital budget, and helping Dr. Marschhausen and the administrative team explore and prioritize the best use of that money.

      One needs to be able to see the world as it looked in 2002 (not 2009) to evaluate the decision of the School Board at the time, which I think was composed of Libby Gierach, Tom Calhoon, Denise Bobbitt, Linda Mirarchi, and Curt Bishop.

      Nearly all of the houses around the Grener property we built after the school district acquired the land. This land was at the far reaches of the water/sewer system, and the options available when the Emmelhainz land was purchased weren't available in 2002.

      As far as accountability - that's what public meetings and elections are all about, including the one this November when 3 seats are up. But the public has to engage.

  3. Kicking the can says,
    We might as well just hand the money over to the developers now and be done with it. TIF, TIF , TIF and away I say !!!

    1. It would have been nice to get another viable offer, but who's going to buy land like this other than a developer? I supposed we could have sold it to a farmer for pennies on the dollar. Don't think that would be a good use of taxpayer dollars...

  4. Paul,

    From 2013 to 2017, the current 5-year forecast projects $277,500 for "Interest and Fiscal Charges" for Debt Service but $0 for Principle. Does this mean that we currently have no "loan debt", and the $277,500 is the estimated annual cost we pay to the county to collect the milage in taxes from our district residents?

    I also agree that if the land was purchased with "capital improvement" funds then if sold, proceeds should be spent as such. (same color of money)

    Also consider that a dollar today will probably "buy more maintenance/equipment" than in a couple of years, so if we have these type of planned expenses that must be done (especially maintenance), might as well do them sooner rather than later.

    Steve B.

    1. As indicated in the first note of the assumptions which go with the Five Year Forecast, this report includes only the General Fund, plus a few other funds related to the routine operations of the school district.

      The capital funds are covered the Treasurer's Monthly Report, as well as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

      The land was purchased with funds raised via a prior bond levy, but not spent. The language I quoted above was from the bond issue which was approved by the voters, and in encompasses the whole gamut of potential capital spending categories, running from the construction of a school building to purchase of classroom technology.

  5. The fact we can't seem to slow development is exasperating. I wish you'd endorse candidates for the Hilliard City council.

    1. None of the candidates have asked for my endorsement, and truthfully, the only one of them I know personally is Les Carrier.

      Les was one of the original members of the school district's Audit & Accountability Committee, and so he well understands the connection between the City's development policies and what it costs all of us to fund the school district.

      If I lived in the City and could vote in this election, Les would get my vote.

  6. I am outraged by this. It is precisely this short-term thinking that cripples the long-term stability of our school district. $5m in venue now is peanuts compared with the cost of the additional children that will be hoisted on the school district as a result of selling this land to a residential developer.

    A quick number crunch tells me this will inflict about $2.5m in net-negative additional costs on the district once the development is complete. Oh, that's $2.5m PER YEAR.

    Quite frankly, I am stunned you think this is a good thing. I'm convinced that if this were put to a vote, the majority of the community would be against selling this land.

    So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the board of education does the complete opposite...

    1. I understand why you feel this way - it wasn't an easy decision for me either.

      In reality, had this land never had been bought by the School Board in 2002, it would certainly have been purchased in the ensuing years by a developer anyway.

      What if in 2002, the taxpayers been told that the School Board used some of the money raised in the last bond issue to purchase this piece of farmland to keep it from being developed, would that move had been supported? I doubt it.

      But let's say it would have been. Why then wouldn't it have been wise to continue with that strategy, putting a bond issue on the ballot to buy the 400 acres on Alton-Darby Rd from Dan O'Brien, to keep it from being developed as Heritage Preserve?

      Why wouldn't we start a program of buying up all the farmland in Brown Twp we can to prevent any more development? This 124 acres we just sold is inconsequential in relation to the thousands and thousands of acres which remains undeveloped in our school district, most of it owned by absentee landowners who are chomping at the bit for the opportunity to sell out to developers.

      Everyone feels their house should have been the last one permitted in the school district, and considers every new house built afterward as a burden on the rest of us. I certainly miss the days when there wasn't a single development on Roberts Rd, or even any traffic lights.

      I recently spoke to a neighborhood group from the Wynneoak Estates development who are trying to get the City of Columbus to disallow a 4 acre residential parcel abutting some of their homes from being sold to someone who wants to build apartments on the land, claiming that it will reduce their property values and diminish the aesthetics of their neighborhood.

      I suggested to them that this is probably exactly what the owner of that 4 acre parcel felt when the wide open farmland around him was sold and developed into hundreds of houses - their houses.

      We can't, and probably shouldn't stop development. But we can demand that the city governments require responsible and sustainable development, which includes pacing residential development to commercial development. That could have been accomplished by the City of Hilliard simply by declining to annex any new land along Alton-Darby Rd.

      Given the whole range of less-than-desirable options available to us, this one seems in the best interest of the taxpayers.

  7. Mayor Schonhardt and Council President Sciotto have weighed in on our decision to this land to Rockford Homes.

    I'd point out that if the City really wanted this parcel to be developed as a sports complex, they could have purchased it from the School District, or found a private developer who could have made a competitive offer. The land had been put up for auction once before, as is required by law, and there were no bidders.

    1. Both of them are right in what they say. The board does complain about residential development, and the board is indeed a bunch of hypocrites to then turn around and sell it to a residential developer.

      This really boggles the mind all around.

    2. How and when this land gets developed is, has been, and will always be in the hands of the city government.

      Remember that this city government supported the school board when it purchased the land, then turned around and supported the campaign to not build the school district there, citing traffic concerns.

      I've always felt that the real motivation was to force the school board to buy land in what was then called the Environmentally Sensitive Conservation District, and open those parcels of land for development. That is indeed what happened.

      This is all a consequence of buying the land without already having the funding to construct the buildings. It seems like it would be better to put the land purchase and construction funding on the same bond issue, but that approach has its own problems.

      As I said, picking what seemed to the best of several undesirable choices.

  8. This is one more example of poor management and lack of any accountability. I stilL will never agree with the third high school concept. We now have 1 new and two older high school building. We have 3 football fields and AD's. Look how much operating dollars could have been spent on the children. We spent it on extra management for the 3rd complex.

    I do not like the idea of spending on maintenance either. This will just cover up all the money and defered maintenance used for the learning center.


  9. Paul

    Certainly understand your motivation to try and make lemonade out of a lime.. so to speak, but you did have other viable offers for the use of that land. In fact, I am somewhat surprised you would not consider the offer to turn the entire space into field sports for our community. (ultimately allowing for full recovery of the capital outlay)
    The financials were different for the schools, but I believe provided an out fo the box solution.

    Let's see you post the analysis of children per acre,, and when the need to redsitrict will occur due to Rockford needing the 2-3 units per acre on that ground, You may get a short term gain on the capital and sale, but what about the long term cost-especially with the foundation formula being so disadvantageous to our schools,

    Folks - this is exactly the reason I am getting more involved in our community. Please keep an eye out, as we are planning a town meeting soon, to share what I think the community believes will be a better outcome for the Grener land than high density housing. It is going to require all of us, the community to speak, so our collective leadership can collaborate and come to a better solution than more residential housing.

    Anyone who may be interested in what we can do to stop this, please email me at and I will send notice of the meeting time and location we are setting for the Mid May time frame.

    Paul, you have always been a wonderful resource and dedicated to our community, and I understand the fiduciary duties you carry in your role, but this one needs to go to a vote..similar to the Grener votes of past (:

    My best,

    Les Carrier

  10. Paul:

    Not a tech savvy blogger,, but this decision is either short cited or genious, as it has the potential to engage our entire community. I understand your fiduciary capacity and the need to maximize the value of the sale, but I would like to see you post the notes and discussions on the expected number of children per acre.. When do you expect the redistricting to occur due to this type of sale? It will take Rockford 2-3 homes per acre and with couple children per family easiliy.

    There were a couple of viable offers given to the board creating a sport complex, Yes, the financials were different, but the net to the schools and and community would be better.

    This one is not over. Anyone who is interested, we are going to host a town meeting to show another vision for the Grener property. I find it ironic how prior board's have purchased that ground and here we are again on the sale. The community may need to speak to that parcel again.

    If you email me at I will add you to the list as we prepare to have a conversation about what can be done. I believe there are many ways to solve this (Gahanna is an example ), but it will require our community leadership to listen to the community and invest..The schools need the capital, the city green space and economic activity. There is a soluiton, a better one than 2-3 per acre

    Imagine hosting a regional lacrosse/soccer/baseball/softball etc etc.. touurnament 3 weeks of every month! Our retail would benefit, our schools would not have additional population and funding associated with the outcomes, and our hotels full.

    I appreciate all you do, and your dedication to our community.

    If you'll allow, i will keep learning to blog and post for your readers to be informed.

    My Best,

    Les Carrier

    1. Les:

      I can tell you that every one of us on the school board wanted to work out a deal for a sports complex on that land. But I wouldn't call any of those offers viable.

      A school board doesn't have the same flexibility as a private party for structuring deals where the purchase isn't going to be made with cash, at least that's what I understood the advice to be from our counsel. In essence, the buyer wanted the school board to act as the lender, and we just weren't comfortable doing that.

      Had that buyer been able to secure independent financing, and made to us a reasonable cash offer, I'm very confident that such an offer would have been gladly accepted.

      Not a single spade of earth will be turned on this property until Rockford is granted appropriate zoning and development permits by the City, which must be completed to Rockford's satisfaction before they are required to close on the deal.

      The people of the community still have plenty of opportunities to influence how this land is developed, if it is to be developed at all. If the City doesn't grant the necessary permits, the Rockford deal goes away.

  11. This situation is a sticky one in which I can see both angles of this, but in reality I dont trust the city and dont trust the board either as it refers to land development. Contrary to comments by the city and board the goal will be to develop every single tract of the
    land in the HCDS area, and it will be residential developer heavy because short term it brings in dollars but long term everyone taxes are going to skyrocket.

    It amazes me in conservativille here that we are anti tax when it comes to the state and federal folks, but we will have no issue with the skyrocketing taxes we have and will continue to have, and somehow most in this town have bought into it. We are looking now (short term)
    at tax increases at the city level, more police protectin, infrasturcture, employees etc, to handle an ever increasing daily populace. We continue to ignore empty store fronts, and more retail than one can imagine which produces except up front more miniumum wage jobs.
    We have a new tax coming on the fire service level, plus
    another school levy and perhaps capital outlay for buildings if we keep growing residential. For each 100,000 probably looking at 1,000 increase in the next two to three years so if you have one of those nice
    big houses be ready to cough up at least 2,000 minimum.
    So question yourself, here is a 2,000 out lay for........
    reckless planning or lack there of and the winner is ..........developers and banks who contriubute heavily
    to local board and city campaigns.

    Paul I give you credit for making tough decisions on both sides, and at least you do the research. But it is a typical example of the past status quo that everyone is so enamored about, but yet in critical situations, the board and the schools administration have not had the everyday student and their families interests as a priority.