Residents have many questions for Concept I Academy

HUBER HEIGHTS — Monday night, the Huber Heights City Council held a lengthy zoning public hearing on the request by Concept 1 Academy LLC seeking approval of a major change to a previously approved development plan to utilize the property as a private residential school located at 5363 Tilbury Road, the site of the former LaMendola Elementary School. The applicant, represented by Tari Darr, owner and Director of Administration and E. Jake Decker, owner and Director of Operations, wants to change the use and make interior modifications to establish a private residential school.

Council passed the ordinance to a second reading, sending it back to committee for further consideration. The second reading will be conducted at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 22. In a related item, it was announced that City Attorney Alan Schaeffer was removing himself from advising on matters related to Concept I Academy as someone at the firm he is from is representing Concept I Academy. Council voted to appoint Scott Lieberman of Altick & Corwin as special council related to all discussions related to Concept I Academy.

Concerning Concept 1 Academy, Assistant City Manager Scott Falkowski said the property was the old Lamendola Elementary School and noted that when the new buildings were constructed, the site wasn’t suitable to build a new school on while keeping the school active. The building has set vacant for the past four years. The Huber Heights City Schools Board of Education put the building up for sale at auction with Concept I Academy winning the bid at $19,000.

Falkowski said the private residential school seeks a change of use, adding a residential component. This request went to the Planning Commission on May 12 and was recommended 4-0.

Falkowski said the academy is seeking a maximum of 32 students and noted that if they wanted to increase that number in the future, they would have to come back to seek a change. He indicated students who are males 16 to 18 years old would attend Sinclair Community College in addition to some training at the facility. He said all students would reside at this site with access points gated. If Council approves the request, Concept I Academy would go through the building permit process and fire code requirements.

Falkowski suggested that vandalism at the site would likely be lessened. He said it would be private property and that the public would not be allowed to use the facilities such as the playground equipment. Concept I Academy is examining the possibility of donating the playground equipment to the city for another location.

Mayor Thomas McMasters asked why this facility was considered a school? Falkowski said Concept I would provide some on site classes. Decker said a class is when you teach someone and at the end of the teaching session they have gained new knowledge. He said Concept I is not an accredited school, but said Sinclair is accredited.

McMasters also asked what happens if this business doesn’t succeed as a business? Falkowski said the city has a zoning department that keeps track of issues and said there was a process set up to handle vacant buildings.

McMasters asked about possible asbestos in the building and asked if there was a way to make sure city doesn’t get stuck with the building. Falkowski indicated the building had been abated.

Council member Tyler Starline talked about communications by members of the public questioning Concept I Academy’s past record on operating in other locations and asked about their operation of a similar facility in another state. Darr said she had a facility in Virginia which she closed when she moved to Ohio.

Darr said that on Monday, they were picking up broken glass and expressed concern about more vandalism.

One citizen said she was in favor of the facility and noted she’d rather see something that is constructive at the location. One citizen said “they are trying to help our youth succeed at becoming adults and said she would like to volunteer to work in that building to help the kids.

Christine Youngerman said she has witnessed vandalism at the site and watched cars drive through the property. She said she would rather have the building open and said she didn’t think the drug problem will be as bad.

Another resident asked what the young men would do on the off hours and suggested there were no nearby activities for these young men to do.

Richard Shaw asked six questions which included an inquiry as to whether Concept One had the funds “to open tomorrow” if approved and what they would do with the playground equipment.

Tim Hart asked about the possibility of speaking to former graduates and asked if the city could do anything if they had 64 rather than 32 students.

Bruce Gorby said this would have made a real nice Sr. Citizens Center and said he was upset about what is going on.

Residents asked about training and degrees of faculty and staff. Other residents asked how this would be financially viable for 32 students and questioned their past history. Another asked how much it would cost the city if this venture failed.

Tim Hart said that the fact that the city doesn’t own it now, doesn’t mean they won’t own it in the future.

Another resident said she is very concerned about what someone else is bringing into the city and asked if we really want these children that already have problems coming into our community and suggested they may sell drugs.

Council member Karen Kaleps asked if there had been an increase in police activity since school closed. Police Chief Mark Lightner said police have responded many times to reports of broken windows and damage to exterior.

Kaleps said the city cannot prevent somebody from coming in and seeking what they would like to do on the property. She said this issue should go back to committee and noted the city still needs to try to get the highest and best use for that property.

Darr said Concept I Academy would be purchasing the property, no matter how long the process takes.

Starline said Council has limited legal grounds they’re allowed to consider in making decisions like this and noted they would obtain a special attorney to advice Council on this. He said he wanted to investigate this further and make sure they are making decisions that are legally best for the city.

Council member Lu Dale said Council was listening to the residents and said whatever Council does will be in the best interests of othe citizens.

Darr said she respectfully declined to answer any financial questions on the advice of counsel.

In response to questions from City Manager Rob Schommer, Darr said no closing has been set and said they have the option to close now or after they get the use approved. She said they do want to get possession to stop the vandalism to secure and safeguard the community.

Decker said Concept I is a private residential training academy. He said they teach life skills training on site.

Darr said they will have 24 hour staff on campus. She also said they cannot apply for occupancy until they have their use permit. She indicated she had 320 graduates in her program in Virginia. Darr and Decker indicated they don’t accept students from drug and alcohol programs or from the criminal justice system. They also indicated they do not take medically fragile students.