By DENISE GRANT
VAN BUREN — Van Buren Schools wants room to grow, but the neighbors aren’t budging.
Superintendent Tim Myers said there are four properties in the 200 block of Van Buren’s South Main Street that would be a welcome addition to the campus.
On Monday, Van Buren school board voted to seek a $29 million bond issue in the May 6 election. The money would go toward demolition of the older part of the high school and middle school building, and construction of new classrooms and a new gym, Myers said.
The money would also go toward improvements to heating and air conditioning in the district’s two schools.
News of the school board’s decision helped generate rumors that the board may seek to acquire nearby properties through eminent domain. Eminent domain allows private property to be taken for public use, following payment of just compensation to the owner.
Myers said the board wants to negotiate.
“The additional property, one property in particular, would allow for a more ‘advantageous’ design of the new school classrooms, but we’re willing to work around it,” he said.
The properties are at 209, 211, 213 and 215 S. Main St., Van Buren. The school campus is at 217 S. Main St.
Van Buren Schools bought one house on the block, at 207 S. Main St., for $65,500 in 2010. The house was razed.
Since then, “We did have one homeowner approach us who was very interested in selling, but wanted three times the property’s market value,” Myers said. “We can’t do something like that. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers to try and get the property at a reasonable price.”
Irvin and Barb Pommeranz own the property closest to the school at 215 S. Main St., and the couple is not interested in selling.
Barb Pommeranz is 74. Her husband is 78. Both are coping with health conditions that would make a move difficult.
“Now, I know how people feel when they say the school wants your property. I love my home. It’s a nice little home and we’re happy here. I wouldn’t sell it for $1 million,” she said. “We’ll see what they do if that levy passes. I’m really worried they are going to try and force us to sell. … I’d like to see their plans.”
The couple has lived in the house for 18 years.
Deb Otto, who bought the house at 213 S. Main St. five years ago, doesn’t want to sell, either.
“I heard the school wanted this house when I bought it, so I have been expecting it,” Otto said. “I run my day care business out of my house. For me, it is not only my home, but my business. … I was told they want to tear down our houses and build a parking lot here.”
Otto has operated a day care for 20 years.
“It’s perfect for me being able to live right next to the school,” she said. “I take care of a lot of kids here, and I’m not interested in selling.”
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