When: Lampeter-Strasburg school board meeting, Feb 21.
What happened: After two pending sales of the former Strasburg Elementary School fell through, the school board accepted a counter offer from an unnamed buyer who proposed the best price. The board voted 8-1 in favor, with board member Kelly Osborne rejecting the plan.
Sale of public property: Several residents spoke during the meeting and wanted to learn more about the deal. The school board did not name who made the offer or the sale price of the district-owned property. In a Feb. 27 phone call, LNP | LancasterOnline asked district Business Manager Keith Stoltzfus for the sale price. Stoltzfus was reminded that the sale price of public property is public information under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, the state’s open meetings law. Stoltzfus said the price will be known to the public when the agreement is signed. Three offers had been submitted to the school district for multi-family use. According to state code, the board must accept the highest bid. The agreement of sale is contingent upon Strasburg Borough agreeing to the project, and that would require a change in zoning.
The Sunshine Act: The sale of the district-owned property must be discussed and acted upon at a public meeting, confirmed Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel at Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, in a Feb. 27 email. Melewsky wrote: “There is a real estate executive session, but that provision doesn’t apply to the sale of public property. The real estate executive session only applies to the purchase or other acquisition of public land, because there’s a need to protect the buying power of the taxpayer. When an agency is selling public property, it is an entirely public process. It’s also worth noting that the Sunshine Act requires the agency to allow a meaningful opportunity for public comment. The public can’t give meaningful public comment if they don’t know the sale price.”
More info: Lancaster County commissioners in 2006 pleaded guilty to violating the Sunshine Act for having discussions about the sale of publicly owned land behind closed doors, Melewsky noted. In that case, commissioners privately discussed the sale of the county-owned nursing home.
Background: The former elementary school at 114 Franklin St., Strasburg, has been vacant for the past three years. The building was erected in 1948, expanded in 1954 and renovated in 2006. The school closed in 2013, and the building was rented to Victory Church from 2015 to 2020. The board had previously approved the $1.3 million sale of the vacant school to Restart Training Center Ministry Inc. at a meeting last November, but the ministry terminated the deal. In January, district officials accepted an offer for the same price from a development company affiliated with Quarry View Building Group. However, the offer was rescinded by Ben King, CEO of Quarry View, when he discovered that asbestos contamination is a problem at the building, and other required improvements would raise total costs significantly higher.
Quotable: “Ours is probably the low offer on the table,” said King who attended the meeting. “The biggest surprise is the water main issues and the asbestos problem.” The costs to renovate the building would be considerable, said King, and this was a factor in the offer he made. The amount of King’s offer was not disclosed during a public meeting.
Recommendation: Prior to the board vote, Stoltzfus acknowledged that substantial work needs to be performed by the buyer to get the building ready for specific occupancy. The board followed the recommendation of Stoltzfus to go with the highest offer.
Public comment: District resident Toni Warner, of Strasburg Borough, asked the board how many units are planned. “We want to know what’s coming down the lane,” she commented. She said she would like to know the name of the buyer but said she understood the process and its confidential nature.
What’s next: The next board meeting is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. March 6.