The Buckeye Valley Local School District is pursuing legal action to obtain property officials said is necessary to complete construction of an elementary school complex in the Village of Ashley.
The property at 530 East High Street in Ashley is currently home to the Haunted Hoorah, a local Halloween landmark that’s been operating for the past four years.
The school district filed a petition in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, General Division, in January to appropriate the property next to Buckeye Valley East Elementary.
“A portion of the west wing of the building will be on the property as well as the bus loop,” said Buckeye Valley Superintendent Andrew Miller.
Miller said the bus loop is important because it allows access to the school from the east and keeping the bus and car traffic separate, allowing for better student safety during drop off and pick times.
According to district officials, the projected cost for the elementary building is $11.6 million, which is designed to serve 475 students. A portion of the old building is being renovated and incorporated into the new building. Construction began at the beginning of the summer. Miller said the purchase of the property is included in the construction budget.
On the other side of this issue is the couple that owns Haunted Hoorah, Brent and Angie Stooksbury. Their attorney said they just want a fair deal.
“The Stooksburys bought the house to make it their life’s dream,” said Joe Miller, an attorney with the Vorys law firm, who is representing the Stooksburys in the suit. “The school district has not offered the Stooksburys what they have put into the house.”
Brent Stooksbury said they bought the house as a foreclosure in 2013 for $11,000 with the idea of flipping it, but decided to keep it.
“We got caught up in the moment,” he said. That moment was the idea of creating a haunted house.
Stooksbury said they have invested more than $200,000 in the house to make it compliant with code as a commercial business. He said there were investments in electrical upgrades, the installation of a sprinkler system for fire suppression, and the addition of an upstairs external fire exit, plus permits from Delaware County allowing the property to be used for commercial business.
Stooksbury said the attraction has continued to draw larger crowds each year.
“This was our fourth season,” he said. “There were around 6,500 people that went through the attraction.”
According to Stooksbury, the annual attraction is rated as one of “Ohio’s Top Ten Haunts.”
“Once you’re good you can’t go backwards,” he said.
Stooksbury said the attraction employed 118 seasonal people this year, all from the Ashley area, ranging in age 16 to 65.
“That’s (seasonal employment) one of the things they are going to take away,” he said.
Stooksbury said his question is, why didn’t the school district purchase the property when it was on the market?
“It was on the open market being sold by a realtor,” he said.
“We’d been kicking around where the school would be located,” Andrew Miller said. “It didn’t really settle down until after the bond issue passed.”
Miller said before the 2015 bond issue passed, the district placed two other bond issues on the ballot. He said voters overwhelmingly rejected both. He was not superintendent during the two unsuccessful bond campaigns.
“It is unlikely the prior superintendent would have informed the owner before passing the bond issue,” Miller said. “I don’t think it would have been fiscally responsible.”
Miller said the school district looked at other options before pursuing the Haunted Hoorah property. He said building on the north side wasn’t really possible because it is in a floodplain.
“I would also like to relay that long before the eminent domain case was filed and soon after it was filed, the district repeatedly tried to negotiate a fair market price for the property,” Miller said. “The district remains willing and open at any time to negotiate fair compensation for the property.”
Miller said there have been several discussions with the owners of the property including a day of mediation. He said there have been “additional discussions since the appraisal” of the property.
“In short, we are building a school that will much better serve the needs of the roughly 450 students that will attend this school upon completion,” he said.
According to the court documents, the school district had the property appraised at $95,000.
Stooksbury said when he had the property appraised, “The appraisal was $330,000 for just the property. They are saying it’s an old empty house when it is a commercial property.”
The court has set a jury trial date for March 27, 2018.
Stooksbury said he can’t move forward to a new location since the court date isn’t until March. He said it’s not like “packing up a dental office and moving it to somewhere else.” Without the money, he said he can’t purchase another house and make it ugly like a haunted house in time for the next season.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.