|The Campbell County School District hopes to build a second middle school on the DAV property. A rejection by KDE is just part of the process, said the superintendent.|
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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has sent a letter to Campbell County Superintendent David Rust and school board officials denying the school district’s request to move ahead with purchasing the property at 3725 Alexandria Pike, commonly known as the DAV property in Cold Spring, for the location of a second middle school to serve the southern portion of the district.
KDE highlighted several issues that would need to be addressed before it would reconsider its decision. These include some missing documentation, but also the issue of easements concerning utility lines on the property. The department noted that the law requires the property to be free of easements that transverse the site, although they are allowed along the perimeter.
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Most troubling is a 50’ easement for a natural gas transmission pipeline that enters the site from the Industrial Road on the eastern portion and runs through the property to the western property line. Three other easements within the property lines also must be addressed. One utility line straddles the property lines between two parcels of land, another is located within the property line of two parcels and a sanitary sewer easement is in place for another line.
KDE also indicated that there are prohibitions to locating near high pressure gas lines for safety reasons, and that a determination regarding the health impacts of the pipeline must be submitted.
The letter also requests information on what the school district intends to pay to the clerk of courts so the department can determine if acquisition costs do not exceed 10 percent of the maximum budget for the project.
The superintendent responds
When asked about the letter, Dr. Rust, explained the letter was expected, and the school district will work on the issues highlighted within it.
"This is part of the process. As we submit documents for acquisition, KDE evaluates them and provides feedback. This occurs throughout the process. Then we follow up on that feedback. Campbell County Schools is continuing to work with KDE to meet their acquisition guidelines. Our team has a pre-scheduled call with KDE at 1 p.m. today to discuss individual pieces listed in the letter."
He said the school plans to work through each of the issues. "As you can see in the letter, KDE has asked us to address the items identified. Some of the items identified have already been addressed," he said.
A recap of events
The approximate 30 acres was originally owned by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and serves as their headquarters. The city of Cold Spring purchased the property in April and has been working with developer Al. Neyer on plans to develop the site. City officials said they had long hoped and planned to attract a health care facility to the area. St. Elizabeth Healthcare announced they would build a new facility on the site once it became available.
Meanwhile, the Campbell County School Board also expressed interest in the site for a proposed second middle school. The school district approached KDE and received an initial approval to explore purchase of the property. When the schools’ bid was rejected by the DAV, district officials filed to seize the property under eminent domain in December 2020 and have been awaiting for a decision on condemnation of the property.
The city then purchased the property in April 2021. School officials filed suit to prevent the city and developer Al. Neyer from moving ahead with the project. The city, in turn, filed against the school district for interfering with purchase of the property.
In recent months, Campbell County Circuit Court Judge Dan Zalla, the judge whose decision established the city’s interest in the property and its right to intervene, recused himself from the case. Judge Julie Ward has taken over and held a status hearing in July.
The school board’s lawyer Jason Reed, while still retained by the district, appears to no longer be handling the case. Tension between Reed and the city of Cold Spring led city attorney Brandon Voelker to file complaints about Reed’s blurring the lines between his private practice and public role as a staff attorney for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
After an investigation that turned up non-work-related documents on his work computer and other related issues, the Office of Human Resource Management determined Reed had misused his state resources and suspended him temporarily from his job.
Deb Pleatman, an attorney with Ziegler & Schneider, has since taken over in filing for the school board. She declined to comment on the KDE letter or the case stating that she could not while litigation was underway.
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The city’s concerns
Voelker had a lot to say on the subject. He said the school district was fully aware of the easement issues and should have considered those fully before proceeding.
"We told them of those issues before they did any of this — before they filed suit and ran up legal bills. We really feel bad for the DAV. We feel the school district’s frivolous eminent domain filing took money directly from the veterans. These were not things discovered through their due diligence. These were things that were already known."
He noted that one of requirements noted in the KDE letter was that the schools must submit documentation listing other potential sites reviewed and why they were rejected. Dr. Rust has said the district had been looking for a suitable property a long time, and the fact that the site has a building that could be renovated made it an affordable option for the schools.
Voelker noted the city had reached out to the school district to offer other possibilities such as parcel of about 28 acres near Crossroads Elementary and had offered to work with the district on its quest to find a suitable property. Yet, he said, the school district refused to meet and rejected the offer outright.
"Our problem is we need to move forward," said Voelker. "We’re trying to demolish the building, and they are trying to jam us up on it. We’re trying to move forward. Every day this is costing taxpayer money, and every day makes it longer until taxpayers can reap the benefits of the new development."
Voelker said the city has issued an ultimatum. "We gave them a deadline of next Wednesday [August 11] at 5 p.m. to basically dismiss their suit, or the city will call a special meeting to aggressively go after the school board." He explained the city will sue the school board for damages incurred from the stalled development project.