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South Lewis board accepts offer on former Constableville school

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CONSTABLEVILLE — The South Lewis Central School District has accepted a purchase offer on the former elementary school here, with the possibility of completing the sale this fall.

The Board of Education on Tuesday approved an offer from Matthew A. and Leticia A. Zehr, Martinsburg, to purchase the 12.1-acre former Constableville Elementary School property, with a two-story former school building and small bus garage, for $50,000.

“We want to see the building utilized,” South Lewis Central School District Superintendent Douglas E. Premo said.

To comply with state education law, the proposed purchase is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning that district residents could force a public vote by submitting a petition containing signatures of at least 10 percent of qualified voters within 30 days.

If the proposal is not contested, the school board could formally approve the sale at its Aug. 13 meeting, allowing a closing sometime in September or October, Mr. Premo said.

The Zehrs, who operate a pottery studio and home-school their four children, intend to use a portion of the two-story building as a residence and studio, with hopes to lease other parts of the building for businesses, professional offices or even a bed and breakfast, he said.

While Good Morning Realty likely showed the old school to more than 30 people, most of it was apparently “novelty interest” from people without true reuse plans, Mr. Premo said.

“This was the only offer,” he said.

The Zehrs initially submitted an offer at the district’s asking price of $75,000, but that deal was made contingent on them being able to sell their property in Martinsburg by July 30 and did not include a permissive referendum clause.

Board members decided that would not be acceptable, so the Zehrs agreed to remove their provision and add the referendum language in exchange for a price reduction to $50,000, which they indicated they could cover even if they don’t first sell their property, Mr. Premo said.

Real estate agent Britton A. Abbey “offered an opinion to the effect that the costs of continued ownership of the building including maintenance and utilities for the next heating system outweigh the benefits of seeking additional purchase offers,” particularly given the limited market, according to an addendum to the resolution adopted by the Board of Education.

The district’s cost to maintain the building is roughly $30,000 to $50,000 per year, depending on the winter, Mr. Premo said.

“We’d really prefer not to go through another heating season,” he said.

Also, since some upgrades to the Constableville school were included in the district’s last capital project, proceeds from the sale will likely go back to the state, regardless of the price, Mr. Premo said.

“Plus, it will go back on the tax rolls,” he said.

Citing budget constraints, the Board of Education closed Constableville Elementary School before the 2012-13 school year.

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