NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith says she will have a new recommendation for what to do with Newell Memorial Field at the Nov. 13 school board meeting.
The board on Monday rejected a $50,000 bid on the property by the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, saying it was too low. The board had set a minimum bid of $250,000 for the Oct. 25 auction.
Board members voted 4-0 in favor of Smith's recommendation that the fire department's bid be rejected, with John Manypenny abstaining.
"The legal advertisement set a minimum bid of $250,000, and that was not met," board President Jerry Durante said. "Because of that, unfortunately, the bid has to be rejected."
Asked why he abstained instead of voting "no," Manypenny said, "I thought the auction was mishandled. It brought into question, on my part, whether the minimum bid might have been made null and void by accepting a bid that was less than the minimum and by accepting the deposit check."
The legal advertisement placed by the school board in area newspapers said the 4.25-acre property would be sold at public auction to the highest responsible bidder "whose bid meets or exceeds the minimum advertised bid herein."
Had the board accepted the fire department's bid, it could have exposed the district to litigation, Smith said.
Chester fire Chief John Hissam said he bid below the minimum because there were no other bidders and he felt $50,000 was a fair price. Hissam's bid was just the latest in several attempts by the fire department to acquire the old football stadium.
"There's nothing we can do," Hissam said after Monday's board meeting. "The board has seen fit to turn down $300,000, $250,000, $150,000 and $50,000 in two and a half months."
Asked if he would bid on the property again, Hissam said, "Absolutely."
The fire department wants to maintain the property for community use in a manner similar to Chester City Park, which it leases to the city of Chester, Hissam said.
"The people of Newell are 100 percent behind us," he said. "I've heard no one from Chester say that they think this is a bad idea."
Hissam said Monday that even though there's outside interest in the property, no one wants to bid against the fire department for fear of how the public will react.
After Monday's vote, the board met in executive session to discuss the stadium sale and possible school property litigation. Durante said the next step is dependent on Smith, who will have to make another recommendation to the board.
Manypenny said the board should have accepted one of the earlier offers from the fire department or the city of Chester.
"I wasn't in favor of putting it up for auction when there was an offer made that would have met the minimum bid and would have given it to an entity - the city of Chester - that would, in turn, have transferred it to the fire department," he said. "I thought that we needed to give that offer consideration. It was a legal offer. The board should have considered it."