Hannibal’s Board of Education wants to know more before it will even consider buying a piece of land that’s adjacent to the district’s high school property, but what they learned Wednesday night raised several red flags.
Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio said he had a conversation with a representative for the owner about rumors the land might be for sale.Ã‚Â The board gave DiFabio permission in November to have the conversation.
DiFabio said that 1045 Auburn St. is for sale.Ã‚Â It’s assessed at $47,000.Ã‚Â The property owner, the estate of Mary Blanchard, owes $13,000 in back taxes to the county, which may be threatening to put the property up for tax auction.Ã‚Â And the estate wants to sell the property for $65,000.
The 1.1 acre property is surrounded by asphalt.Ã‚Â Besides the street, the land is bounded by the high school parking lot, the bus loop and parking and access pavement at the bus garage.Ã‚Â The district has a long-standing legal agreement with the property owner to use part of the land, because the bus loop encroaches on the property and because the district piles snow on the edge of the property.
The district could use the property for bus parking and loading.Ã‚Â DiFabio is concerned that if someone else buys the property, the new owner could end the agreement that allows the district to encroach on the property.
The asking price found no support among board members.Ã‚Â “Just wait for it to come up to the tax auction,” said board president Dale Young, when it could be bought for the amount of taxes owed, or by whoever bids the most.
But the larger concern is with the property itself.Ã‚Â Young noted that there have been many old cars on the property over the years and contamination from oil and gas leaks was almost inevitable.Ã‚Â Also, the home is an older structure and that makes the presence of asbestos much more likely.Ã‚Â “If there’s asbestos, it’ll cost more to abate it than it costs for the property,” he said.
Public agencies such as school districts must follow strict, complicated and very expensive rules for getting rid of asbestos because the fiber is a known cause of lung cancer and other diseases.Ã‚Â Asbestos was a commonly-used insulator half a century ago and is often found in outdoor shingles or as insulating wrapping around pipes.Ã‚Â Private landowners do not face the same burden of removal and one board member suggested having the property owner demolish and remove the home as a condition of buying the property.
The board decided to have the district ask the landowner’s representative about the contamination and asbestos issues
This isn’t the first time the district has had a chance to buy the land.Ã‚Â A number of years ago, voters twice turned down the district’s request to buy the property.Ã‚Â The first time, it was part of a plan to build a middle school on the property, under then-Superintendent Frank Ferrando.Ã‚Â Whem that was rejected, the board asked for a vote on just buying the land so there could be more parking.
“They didn’t trust us then,” said board member Fred Patane, who was on the school board at that time. He said people believed that the board was just trying to sneak the middle school plan past the voters.
“I wish we’d have bought it then,” said Patane.
“We really should have that property,” agreed Young. “But it scares me.”