After the newly formed jury received instructions Tuesday in a case of eminent domain, they were loaded onto a DATABus and taken to Ashley to view the property at 530 E. High St. known as the Haunted Hoorah.
Delaware County Common Pleas Court General Division Judge David Gormley instructed jurors they were to “determine the fair market value of the property.”
“The value of the business is not part of the case,” he instructed the jury.
Buckeye Valley Local School District filed a petition with the court in January to appropriate the property next to Buckeye Valley East Elementary.
According to court documents, the school district had the property appraised at $95,000 and is offering the property owners, Brent and Angela Stooksbury, $100,000.
The Stooksburys’ independent appraiser valued the property at $330,000, and they are asking $350,000.
Mr. Stooksbury was asked by his attorney, Joe Miller, why he wanted Buckeye Valley to pay the $350,000 instead of the $100,000 the school district is offering.
“I want them to pay me for all the time and money that I put into the property so I can move on,” he said. “I’m asking $350,000 for it because it’s best used as a haunted house.”
Mr. Stooksbury said the couple purchased the house as a foreclosure in 2013 for $11,000 with the idea of flipping it, but decided to keep it to build their dream of a haunted attraction.
“I don’t want their money,” he said. “I want them to leave me alone and let me work my haunted house.”
In earlier reports, Mr. Stooksbury had said that they have invested more than $200,000 in the house to make it compliant with the codes of a commercial business. He said they have invested in electrical upgrades, the installation of a sprinkler system for fire suppression, and the addition of an upstairs external fire exit, plus all the permits from Delaware County.
In Mr. Stooksbury’s testimony Tuesday, he said after giving his deposition before the trail, he pulled all the receipts for the upgrades to the old house and did a line-by-line total. He said he wanted to prove that he was right, but found the total only came to $164,000.
Mr. Stooksbury said last October was the fourth season for the attraction that employed 118 seasonal workers and drew approximately 8,000 visitors to Ashley.
In an earlier report, Mr. Stooksbury stated that moving to a new location isn’t like packing up an office and moving somewhere else. Without the money, he said he can’t purchase another house and make it ugly like a haunted house in time for next season.
Mr. Stooksbury testified that before he purchased the property in 2013, he asked the school district if they had any plans to purchase the property. His question now is, why didn’t the school district purchase the property when it was on the open market?
In November, Buckeye Valley Local Schools Superintendent Andrew Miller said before the 2015 bond issue passed, the district placed two other bond issues on the ballot. He said voters overwhelmingly rejected both and that it was unlikely the prior superintendent would have informed the owner before passing the bond issue.
District officials contend that the property is necessary to complete the construction of the elementary school complex that is currently under construction.
“A portion of the west wing of the building will be on the property as well as the bus loop,” said Miller.
Miller added at that time that the bus loop is important because it allows access to the school from the east and keeps the bus and car traffic separate, allowing for better student safety during drop-off and pick-up times. He said the purchase of the property is included in the construction budget.
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 school building is being renovated and incorporated into the new building. Construction began the summer of 2017.
Miller said the school district did look 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.
Miller added 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. He 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,” Miller said.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.