NEW CUMBERLAND-The Chester Volunteer Fire Department had the winning, and only, bid on Newell Memorial Stadium at this morning's auction.
The fire department's winning bid was $50,000-$200,000 below the minimum bid set by the Hancock County school board for the 4.25-acre piece of property.
It is unclear whether the bid will be accepted by the school board when it meets to vote on the transaction at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
But Chester fire Chief John Hissam was exultant about the auction results. "It's a win for everybody," he said. "Our plan is that the football field will be there forever as a community piece of property."
Although anticlimactic, the auction culminates a sometimes contentious process that began in June with the board's declaration of the Newell stadium and Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton as surplus property. The stadiums are no longer needed now that Weirton and Oak Glen high schools have new multi-sports complexes.
The board's decision to sell the Newell stadium at public auction angered some members of the community who feared that a private owner would develop the property for purposes at odds with the public good.
In July, the fire department approached the school district with an offer-first $150,000, then $300,000-to buy and maintain the field for community use. Superintendent Suzan Smith declined that offer, saying the district could not negotiate with non-governmental organizations.
Earlier this month, the city of Chester offered to use privately-donated money to buy the stadium, but the offer died for lack of board interest.
Bidding at today's auction began at 10 a.m., and it soon became apparent that Hissam was the only bidder. Hissam asked county attorney Bill Fahey if he could bid any amount, even below the minimum, and Fahey replied, "I think that would be a fair way to proceed."
After Hissam's bid, Fahey closed the bidding. Hissam said he gave Smith a check for $7,500, which is 15 percent of the winning bid. The balance will be given to the district if the board approves the bid at its Monday meeting.