NEW CUMBERLAND - Nearly six months after declaring the Newell and Weirton high school football stadiums surplus property, the Hancock County Board of Education has agreed to sell them to the Hancock County Commission.
The stadiums' sale was the only item of business on the school board's special meeting agenda Friday night, and it came under the heading: unfinished business.
The meeting lasted less than five minutes, with the five-member board voting 3-1 to accept the commissioners' offer of $400,000 for both properties.
"It is behind us," Superintendent Suzan Smith said, "and we need to move on."
Board members Jerry Durante, Toni Hinerman and Patsy Brancazio voted in favor of the sale. Board member John Manypenny voted against it. Board member Laura Greathouse recused herself from the proceedings because county Commissioner Dan Greathouse is her brother-in-law and she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety, she said.
The vote ends a process that dragged on for months and became a bone of contention within the community of Newell, where Memorial Field is not just a football stadium but a war memorial dating back to 1950.
Durante, president of the school board, expressed relief at the board's vote, saying the stadium sale lasted longer than anyone expected. He also defended the board's decision to not sell the stadiums at a public auction, something Durante and Smith had been advocating since June.
Durante said the county commissioners' offer to buy the stadiums for economic development purposes "threw a new light" on the proposed sale.
"It just makes more sense," he said. "I think the commission has the welfare of the community in mind ... to do the right thing."
Durante said he liked the fact that the commissioners' offer included both stadiums and that it gives the school district ample time - 36 months - to vacate the maintenance building and the school bus parking lot at the Weirton location.
The district eventually wants to move its maintenance department to a more central location in Hancock County.
As for the price, Durante said, "I think it's a fair offer."
Previously, when the auction option was still on the table, the board had set a minimum bid of $250,000 for the Newell facility. The Chester Volunteer Fire Department offered three times to meet or exceed that price, but when it came time to bid on the property, on Oct. 25, Fire Chief John Hissam bid only $50,000. That bid was rejected four days later.
The board rescheduled the auction for Nov. 30 but then canceled it after meeting with commissioners Nov. 19. On Monday, commissioners voted 3-0 to offer $400,000 for the stadium properties and enlisted the help of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle to market the land for economic development purposes.
Commissioner Jeff Davis said he is "happy" the board accepted their offer.
"I believe the county commission will work closely and develop those properties to benefit all the people in Hancock County," he said. "I think all the parties involved ... will see that the best things are done with those properties."
Davis said the closing on the sale will take place within 10 days - "as soon as the attorneys get the paperwork drawn up."
Smith said she recommended acceptance of the commissioners' offer because "our area can use more jobs. ... The commissioners made a proposal, and I think it would be in the best interest of the community."
Manypenny said he voted against the sale because he felt the earlier joint offer by the City of Chester and the Chester Volunteer Fire Department held the best chance of keeping the Newell stadium in the community's hands.
(Huba can be contacted at email@example.com)