CHESTER - The city of Chester wants to facilitate the sale of Newell Memorial Field to the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, Mayor Ken Morris said Monday.
Chester City Council voted unanimously Monday to authorize the mayor to make an offer of $250,000 for the stadium at the next meeting of the Hancock County school board on Oct. 8.
Morris said the money would come from a private donor who wishes to remain anonymous. "The party that wants to finance it wants (the stadium) to stay in community hands and for community use," he said. "If we run this through the city, there's a chance (the school board) may take that offer."
Morris said the city would act as a "middle man" in the sale, paying the school district with privately donated funds. The fire department would then reimburse the donor in installments, he said.
"These people have indicated that they will take payments," Morris said.
A similar offer, made by Chester Fire Chief John Hissam in July, was rejected by Superintendent Suzan Smith, who said the district can't negotiate with non-governmental entities. At that time, Hissam said the fire department was willing to pay $300,000, in three installments, to keep the stadium property in community hands.
Officers of the Chester Volunteer Firemen's Association are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to vote on the latest proposal.
The proposed sale of Newell Memorial Stadium, former site of the Oak Glen Golden Bears' home games, has been a source of controversy ever since the school board declared the facility surplus property in June. The stadium no longer is needed, now that the Oak Glen Multi-Sports Complex has been built next to the high school.
The school board has been preparing the Newell stadium for sale according to state guidelines, which say that school property must be sold at public auction to the highest bidder. The auction, originally scheduled for Oct. 5, has been postponed to give the district more time to work out the legal details of the sale.
West Virginia Code also allows for the disposal of school property through a sale to the state or one of its political subdivisions, to the federal government, or to a non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
Morris said he believes such a sale, with the city acting as a go-between, would be permissible under state law.
The Hancock County school board met in executive session Monday night to discuss the sale but took no action. Smith declined comment when asked about the Chester proposal.
"I'll just wait until Monday and let the mayor show up," she said.
At its Sept. 10 meeting, the board voted 3-2 against Smith's proposal to sell the Newell facility at public auction. Board members cited the proposed auction rule that the winning bidder pay 10 percent of the purchase price up front and the balance by Oct. 12.
Board President Jerry Durante and board member John Manypenny said such a requirement, for a lump-sum payment, unnecessarily narrowed the field of potential buyers. The board now is awaiting a new recommendation from Smith.
Smith said Monday that she may have a new recommendation ready for the board's consideration on Oct. 8.