South School again for sale

MARTINS FERRY – A year ago today it was announced that a deal had been struck between the city of Martins Ferry and the Belmont County Commission.

The commission used Senior Service dollars to purchase the former South School property for a considerable discount at $50,000. In turn, the offices of Belmont Senior Services, then contracted through the county, would be moved to town.

That meant an influx of 50-75 jobs to the city. Most would have been filled already, but the increase in tax dollars and bodies spending money in the city was too good a deal for city leaders to pass up.

This week, after much speculation and waiting, the South School property was viewable for sale on the Belmont County Port Authority’s Web site.

Those jobs won’t be coming to Martins Ferry and the commissioners are now looking to unload the property and recoup their costs.

City leaders in Martins Ferry are less than thrilled.

“We sold the property for next to nothing … they got the whole block for $50,000 with a promise that they would move senior services here and bring around 50-75 jobs,” Martins Ferry Councilman Bruce Shrodes said.

“And then I have to read about this in the paper. They don’t have the courtesy to come in and tell us they are not moving foward.”

Shrodes broached the subject with council during Thursday’s meeting after hearing from numerous sources about the building being for sale.

Originally the city accepted bids for the property with an asking price of $100,000. Some were interested, but none at that price. But Shrodes said the deal was struck with the commissioners based on the promise of the incoming jobs.

“We’re thinking we’re getting these jobs coming and here all along, they have no intention of moving down here,” Shrodes said. “There is right and there is wrong. And what they did was wrong.”

Mayor Paul Riethmiller didn’t hear about the sale officially until talking with Commissioner Chuck Probst … Friday. Riethmiller declined to express his feelings on the matter at this time.

A few months after the sale was finalized, the commissioners ended their contract with BSS to handle senior services in Belmont County and instead turned the work over to the county’s department of job and family services and director Dwayne Pielech.

That arm of DJFS is now called Seniors Services of Belmont County.

Commissioner Matt Coffland said that after the changeover, the new administrators of senior programs felt it was best to go in a different direction.

“No one was interested in the property and Belmont Senior Services drew up the deal and presented it to us and we kind of did what they wanted,” Coffland said.

“We turned the operation into a new set of administrators and it doesn’t fit into their overall plan.”

Coffland said

“But we’re not going to sit on it. And if the city of Martins Ferry is interested, we will gladly deal with them.

“We’re not in this to make money. We want to unload the building and recoup what we put into it.”

Pielech confirmed that since the original purchase was made with Senior Service Levy dollars, that any money made from the profit would first have to pay back to the levy.

Coffland said the county has less than $60,000 in the property including minor work done post purchase.

Larry Merry with the Belmont County Port Authority confirmed that he’d just received the paperwork to list the property for sale this week but has yet to determine an asking price.

“I haven’t determined that yet,” Merry said in regard to a price. “I’m going to go through the building and look and it and determine from there exactly what they wish to ask for it.”

This isn’t the first time that senior levy money was used to purchase a facility that eventually didn’t come to fruition.

Previously, roughly $180,000 was used to purchase the former Mediterranean Building which was never utilized and eventually sold for roughly $40,000.

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