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Postal service fights Canon-McMillan eminent domain bid in plan for school

| Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, 12:13 a.m.

A Washington County school district's plan for a new $30 million elementary school complex has one problem: Uncle Sam.

Canon-McMillan School District in April sued in Washington County Common Pleas Court to condemn a 70-by-122-foot property adjacent to the former Muse Elementary school in Cecil.

The hitch: A post office sits on the property, so the postal service had the case moved to federal court in July and, last week, filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed.

The postal service has no plans to move or close the post office, said spokesman Tad Kelley.

“Right now, we have an actionable lease on that building,” he said.

The district held a ground-breaking ceremony for the project Friday.

District Superintendent Michael Daniels and school board President Paul Scarmazzi couldn't be reached for comment.

The district says in court documents that it made an offer to the family that owns the property. The district gave them only about four days to evaluate it, said Michael DiMatteo, one of the owners.

“We requested an extension, and we were not granted that extension,” he said.

The family's understanding is that it can't refuse to sell the property because the district has the power of eminent domain. The only point it can contest is how much the district has to pay for the property, he said.

The postal service says in court documents that the state condemnation law doesn't trump the federal agency's interest in its lease on the building. The agency doesn't take any position on whether the state law would allow the district to condemn and take ownership of the real estate as long it doesn't disturb the lease.

The postal service has leased the property since 2004 and has twice renewed the lease, the motion to dismiss says.

Accompanying exhibits show the latest renewal occurred April 1, which was 26 days before the district started its condemnation action. It expires March 31, 2020.

Court records and school board minutes don't say how important the lot is to the project. The district is building the K-4 school complex to accommodate its growing enrollment.

It would open in 2017-18 with students from Muse, Cecil and First Street elementary schools.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301.

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