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Donora seems ready to sue over school sale

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Thursday, July 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

Donora appears prepared to seek an injunction aimed at blocking the sale of the former Donora Elementary Center building ahead of a planned Aug. 6 auction.

The former Monongahela Elementary Center is also scheduled to go on the auction block that day.

But Monongahela Council is at least publicly noncommittal about whether it will follow suit.

Both elementary centers were closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

At one time, the Ringgold School Board was considering a plan to reopen the buildings and renovate them for use as middle schools.

The board ultimately decided to pursue construction of a new middle school.

Late last summer, the board voted to begin the process of selling the two buildings.

On July 10, Donora Council unanimously authorized solicitor Justin Walsh to seek an injunction to stop the pending auction of the building next month. Council president Dr. Karen Polkabla, who is also Ringgold's superintendent, did not attend that meeting.

The previous night, Monongahela Council authorized solicitor Seth Tongchinsub of Bassi, Vreeland and Associates to explore the possibility of obtaining an injunction to block the sale of the building in that city.

At issue is whether the city has standing in court – a legal interest in the sale of the building.

Tongchinsub has made a recommendation to council about the standing issue, but refused to discuss his opinion when reached by The Valley Independent last week.

Asked if Donora has standing, Walsh said, “I wouldn't file something that didn't have legal basis.”

Walsh said he is prepared to file the motion seeking an injunction if the majority of council approves it.

Jason Menendez, vice president of council, said the motion approved two weeks ago gives the solicitor authority to file the motion seeking an injunction if the solicitor determined the borough had legal standing.

“We plan to give Justin the okay,” Menendez said Wednesday.

“We already have a majority of the council. I don't think we have to have a special meeting.”

Monongahela Council only authorized Tongchinsub to investigate whether the city had legal standing, so a special meeting authorizing filing the motion would likely be required.

Donora Councilwoman Marie Trozzo said she is concerned about what would happen to the school once it is sold at auction. She said old buildings are often sold to out-of-town buyers who never care for the structures.

“We cannot afford to tear them down,” Trozzo said. “If they auction off these buildings, there's no way of knowing what will happen to them.

“As far as I'm concerned, I don't think this building is ever going open as a school. But we cannot be saddled as a borough with that.”

Menendez said Donora has previously paid for the demotion of the shuttered Fifth Street, Castner and Donora junior high schools.

But Councilman Tom Kostolansky said he opposes filing a motion seeking an injunction until after council has thoroughly discussed the issue.

He said the courts rarely rule against such school board decisions.

“These are our elected officials and, like them or not, they made a decision,” Kostolansky said.

Menendez said council had hoped to persuade the school board to delay the auction.

“What we hope, and what I want, is for the board to just come in and talk with us and take a hard look to see what is the cost of a new building versus renovating MEC and DEC,” Menendez said.

“If they're going to raise taxes, people would swallow that more if the district is reinvesting in these communities.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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