Future of Simon Kenton still unknown

By Scott Halasz

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XENIA — The future of the former Simon Kenton Elementary School building became clear as mud during Thursday’s Xenia City Council meeting.

Asked to consider once again extending a memorandum of understanding with Simon Kenton Bridges of Hope — the group hoping to turn the former elementary school building into a community ministry hub — council was thrown a curve ball when an unexpected request was made.

SKBOH Executive Director Michael Deis asked the city to give SKBOH ownership of the building and some accompanying land, eliminating the need for an MOU and relieving the city of all financial obligations for good. The original request council expected to consider Thursday was to extend the MOU so SKBOH could request a variance from the board of zoning appeals and operate an emergency shelter inside the gymnasium during the winter.

That sequence of events sparked more than 30 minutes of questions, few answers, and much debate about the building, especially what would happen if SKBOH was unable to secure the approximately $30,000 necessary to modify the building for a shelter, and if the board of zoning appeals denies a variance to use it as a shelter.

There is also the issue that SKBOH is not close to raising the $150,000 it needs to by Dec. 31, according to the MOU. The group currently has around $35,500 in fundraising.

With very few ways to fill in the blanks, council decided to take no action other than to allow the BZA request to move forward, giving SKBOH a few more weeks to determine the overall financial feasibility. In making a case for building ownership, Deis said his potential financial backers are hesitant to pledge large sums of money if SKBOH does not own the deed.

According to a slideshow Deis presented, one donor said, “If SKBOH had possession of the building, we would provide a major donation now, but not as long as the city owns the building.”

“We’ve given you several chances on MOUs, and now you ask the city to give over a property to you,” Councilmember Dale Louderback said. “That is a marketable property for the city. You tell us you’re going to come up with the money and it never happens.”

Other councilmembers, including Mike Engle and Jeanne Mills also expressed reluctance to approve another MOU extension, but both agreed a shelter is needed in town.

Engle called it a “quandry,” adding, “I just don’t see as clearly the means to get to the goal.”

The MOU — which has been extended several times to allow SKBOH to acquire necessary funding — expires Dec. 31, 2016, and there has been no indication by city council or city staff that they would support any further extensions. Upon expiration of the MOU, a moratorium on the building’s demolition also expires.

The last time it was extended — after telling the city it would not meet the first financial benchmark of raising $50,000 by June 30 — SKBOH assumed all associated private utility costs and agreed to meet its originally stated fundraising goal of $150,000 by the end of 2016.

The plan — first broached more than a year ago — is to use the city-owned building on West Second Street as a place to facilitate organizations serving community needs including those of homelessness, addiction and poverty. The multi-phased project will require at least $1 million to get the building up and running, according Deis, and a yearly operating budget of approximately $152,000.

The building needs a new HVAC system, a fire suppression system, plumbing repairs and upgrades as well as roof repairs and/or a replacement, according to Deis.

In January, SKBOH identified sources of potential funding and completed grant applications with several foundations. Deis also told council that a total of six corporations, with whom he has connections, have pledged support.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.