NEW CUMBERLAND - The Hancock County Board of Education must decide Monday whether to accept a bid for Newell Memorial Field that is $200,000 below the minimum bid.
Superintendent Suzan Smith said she likely will recommend the board not accept the $50,000 bid from the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, the only bidder.
"I really can't recommend (approval) when the minimum bid is $250,000," Smith said. "(The bid) is less than that, so I really cannot recommend the sale of the property."
The board meets in special session at 6:30 p.m. Monday to consider the sale.
Thursday's auction of Newell Memorial Field unfolded in a way that surprised some observers and puzzled others - both in the fact that there was only one bidder and that the bid was only one-fifth of the minimum bid.
School Board President Jerry Durante said he doesn't know why other interested parties, of whom there were several, did not attend the auction or bid on the property.
"I was a little disappointed in that. I thought we'd have a resolution by now," Durante said. "The board has a great interest in seeing that the right thing is done."
Chester Fire Chief John Hissam said he was prepared to bid more but felt that $50,000 was a "reputable" bid.
"The reason I bid what I bid was because the gentleman running the auction said they would accept any bid, since there was only one bidder," he said.
Weirton attorney Bill Fahey, Smith's designated representative at the auction, said he opened the bidding to any bid "so the board could get a feel for what value the community was placing on the property. ... Just because there's a minimum bid doesn't mean it has to start at the minimum bid."
The legal advertisement placed by the school board in area newspapers said the 4.25-acre property will be sold at public auction to the highest responsible bidder "whose bid meets or exceeds the minimum advertised price herein."
Regardless, Hissam was exultant about the auction results.
"It's a win for everybody," he said. "Our plan is that the football field will be there forever as a community piece of property."
Beverly Enochs, president of the Newell Community Improvement Coalition, described the community as "ecstatic. We're very happy to have the field back in the community, to be used for what it is intended, and we hope it stands."
Although anticlimactic, the auction culminates a sometimes contentious process that began in June with the board's declaration of the Newell stadium and Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton as surplus property. The stadiums are no longer needed now that Weirton and Oak Glen high schools have new multi-sports complexes.
The board's decision to sell the Newell stadium at public auction angered some residents who feared that a private owner would develop the property for purposes at odds with the public good.
In July, the fire department approached the school district with an offer - first $150,000, then $300,000 - to buy and maintain the field for community use. Smith declined that offer, saying the district could not negotiate with non-governmental organizations.
Earlier this month, the city of Chester offered to use privately-donated money to buy the stadium, but the offer died for lack of board interest. The city's offer included the fire department taking ownership of the property and reimbursing the anonymous donor.
Bidding at Thursday's auction began at 10 a.m., and it soon became apparent that Hissam was the only bidder. Hissam asked Fahey if he could bid any amount, even below the minimum, and Fahey replied, "I think that would be a fair way to proceed."
After Hissam's bid, Fahey closed the bidding. Hissam said he gave Smith a check for $7,500, which is 15 percent of the winning bid. The balance will be given to the district if the board approves the bid at its Monday meeting.
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