A Lawrence County community agency is offering $150,000 to obtain a vacant New Castle school building. However, board members are uncertain what direction they want to take with the former Ben Franklin Junior High School. Superintendent George Gabriel discussed the Lawrence County Community Action Partnership's proposal during the board's work session Monday night. In particular, he wanted to bring district solicitor Charles Sapienza into the negotiations and seek the board's input on any potential transaction. "The board needs to decide what direction we're going to take." Gabriel said he and business administrator Joseph Ambrosini have conducted preliminary discussions with Thomas Scott, the group's chief executive officer. Three community agencies form the partnership. They are Lawrence County Social Services, United Community Services of Lawrence County and Allied Coordinated Transportation Services. Ben Franklin housed seventh- and eighth- grade students through the 2004-05 school year. With the opening of the district's junior-senior high school, Ben Franklin was closed. "Where buildings set for long periods of time, they're subject to vandalism," Gabriel said. Uses for the structure are limited, Sapienza told board members. "The city will not permit a nonconformed use to this building," he said. "That lessens the desirability of this building." In essence, Sapienza explained, the vacated school building can be used for another school but not apartments, for example. Head Start, a federally funded program operated by the partnership, provides qualified children ages 3 to 5 with free preschool education. Overall, the partnership operates or administers 13 programs. Board member Philip Conti questioned the need to sell the building. "I see no urgency at this point," he said. "At $150,000, you might as well give it to them." Sapienza said there are three ways in which the district can dispose of the building. The first is through a private sale, which the county's common pleas court must approve. The district also may accept bids, which the board has the right to accept or reject. Finally, the facility may be sold at a public auction. The board eventually agreed to a two-prong approach: continue negotiations with the partnership and aggressively market the site. "Just because we agree (to continue negotiations) doesn't mean we're going to sell," board member Mark Kirkwood noted. Donna Donati, another board member, said she preferred to keep Ben Franklin under district ownership. "It would be wonderful to lease the building but not to sell it."

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