There were four “Lobbyists for Citizens” at a meeting today (1/19) with Mr. Jim Kalis, Superintendent of Riverside Local School District, and Mr. Gary Platko, CFO of Riverside School. The meeting was requested by us with the expressed purpose of having a civil discourse with Mr. Kalis to try to better understand what happened leading up to the denial by the Concord Board of Zoning Appeals on the school’s request for a conditional use permit for the proposed new elementary school on Route 608, near the Summerwood development.
Mr. Kalis took the time to meticulously lay out for us the comprehensive overall plan for the school district and the need for closing old schools and building new schools to better meet the needs of the changing community. We had no debate on their overall plan, since it made perfect sense to us. (Comment: This does not mean that we necessarily support such an aggressive real estate tax increase.)
Phase 1: Raise ~$36.0 million with a 2 mill bond levy, to build two new schools and close 4 outdated schools.
Phase 2: Raise ~$77 million with a 4.3 mill levy bond levy (at a later date) for a new 6-12 campus ( 6-8 campus and a 9-12 campus)
Phase 3: Re-purpose LaMuth Middle into an elementary school (no funding needed) and then close Melridge and/or Buckeye Elementary depending on enrollment.
The voters of the Riverside School district passed in November, 2016 the Bond Levy known as Issue 5 (10,417 to 8,875) (54.2% – 45.8%). The voters have spoken and we accept that vote, although somewhat reluctantly.
It certainly seems to us that Mr. Kalis and the school board did try their best to engage the Concord community officials during the planning process. We were given documentation dated 12/6/2016 & 12/7/16 from Kathy Mitchell, Concord’s Administrator:
- On 12/6 Kathy asked to have a follow up discussion on Riverside’s plans for expansion, and wondered if they could meet on 12/8?
- However, a subsequent email dated 12/7/16 Kathy stated this: “After reading Riverside’s announcement today about your selection of property, our proposed meeting is no longer necessary. Thanks for your responses and good luck in your facility planning.”
Mr. Kalis reached out to the Concord Township officials on February 15, 2017 giving them an “Elementary School Update”: Here is a copy of the email. Please note that Mr. Kalis is quite clear in his email that they do not currently own the property, and do not want to buy it, then discover that they cannot get approval.
Heather Freeman, Planning and Zoning Director for Concord, sent this email to Mr. Kalis the next day 2/16.
(Comment: It may be appropriate at this time to state, in our opinion, that the ultimate responsibility of complying with all federal, state and local laws is still the responsibility of the School Board. However, Mr. Kalis certainly seems like he did his best to get feedback from the Township officials, and I did hear the Trustees state in an public meeting that they wanted to work in partnership with the School Board)
There were several complaints from Concord residents that might be impacted by the new school’s location. Ms. Linda Skok of 12428 Concord-Hambden Road, Concord Township seemed to have the most objections to the school district’s wastewater treatment system proposed.
She was concerned about:
(1) the potential impacts to a nearby natural spring and ground water
(2) adequacy of soils to support an onsite sewage treatment system
(3) potential odors from operating a sewage treatment system
(4) availability of sanitary sewers
(5) storm water runoff after construction
Here is the response from the Ohio EPA – they tried to alleviate her concerns:
On September 15, 2017, Heather Freeman sent a letter informing everyone that the Board of Zoning Appeals had DENIED the school’s request for a conditional use permit. It appears the School Board had to pay $600.00 for the application and was given this reason for the denial:
“Did not meet the majority of the standards in section 13.05”
(Comment: Perhaps there is no directive in the zoning code on what to say on a denial, but for $600.00 I would like the courtesy of a detailed explanation of what standards they did not meet. )
The Trustees have stated that they repeatedly encouraged the School Board to look at other sites. However, the School Board has no knowledge or copies of any correspondence from the Trustees supporting those allegations.
(Comment: If it exists, the Concord residents must see hard copies of the correspondence,)
The Trustees sent a letter to the Riverside Board of Education requesting the they not resort to litigation. Here is that letter:
Please note that on page 3 the Board acknowledged that their consultants believe that not building both schools at the same time will cost “at least $1,000,000 or more”.
They are now in litigation, and we are sure the attorney’s fee are mounting up with taxpayers footing the bill for both sides. Although there seems to have been some lack of cooperation from the Township, we wish that the parties would have resolved their differences without resorting to legal action.
(Comment: For some reason, I keep thinking that there is a back story to this fiasco. In my first post on this subject, I mentioned that there was some innuendo about some political interference. Well, Congressman David Joyce’s name came up in our conversation, but Mr. Kalis was reluctant to speak about it. It warrants a call to Mr. Joyce’s office to determine if he got involved in this debate, to what extent was he involved, and who asked him to get involved.)
(Comment: With the benefit of our 20/20 hindsight – Our assessment is that although the School Board seemed to do all the necessary planning, dotting i’s and crossing t’s, they may be guilty of being too trusting of government officials, and expecting the officials to give them a “heads up” , if there is a problem. Receiving a quick approval for the Madison school’s conditional use permit may have lulled them into a false sense of security for getting the Concord permit. In addition, although we are not attorneys, we cannot understand why their attorney did not insist on a provision in the land purchase contract stating that the purchase is contingent on getting the conditional use permit. This problem with Phase 1 may seriously jeopardize the $77 million phase 2 part of the comprehensive plan.)
We have tried to reach out to the Trustees, but they have not responded to our request for a meeting. If we discover more information on this project, we will be sure to let you know.