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SYCC director Debora Brockleman speaks at the Feb. 1 SYCC Board meeting.

City officials still negotiating with Knights of Pythias over building purchase for new SYCC addition

BUCKHANNON – The Stockert Youth & Community Center Board last week discussed potentially purchasing property located at 65 E. Main St. to expand SYCC.

The property is owned by the fraternal organization, the Knights of Pythias, and is located directly across from city hall. The SYCC Board and city officials had been hoping to purchase the property and the building to construct an addition to SYCC – namely, the multi-purpose auditorium/gymnasium facility for which board members have been raising money.

According to a previous My Buckhannon article, talks of purchasing building fell through in November 2019 when city officials and the Knights of Pythias, who own the building, could not agree on a price. According to the previous article, the Knights asked for $187,000 –nearly double what the city offered.

During Monday’s Feb. 1 SYCC board meeting, SYCC executive director Debora Brockleman said she had reached out to Knights of Pythias Treasurer Warren DeBarr and asked if they were still willing to sell the building.

“I called him and asked if they had any intentions to sell – or if they could sell the building – and I think we had a good conversation,” Brockleman said. “I asked for a price tag and he said they would take $145,000, but he also said they have a lawyer, and we needed to speak with the lawyer, and that he would contact his lodge brothers, but he knew that they wanted to sell as well.”

Board member Pam Martin asked where the Knights came up with that number, and Brockleman said that is what the Knights felt it was worth. However, board member Nancy Shobe said mayor Robbie Skinner had previously informed the SYCC board that he had had a prior discussion with DeBarr in which they discussed a price of $55,000.

“He still had to go to his lodge brothers in that situation as well, and I don’t think that they’ve been having very regular meetings in light of everything with COVID,” Skinner said. “They also wanted us (city officials) to make lots of arrangements for them, arrangements that we couldn’t get past, and when you’re talking about a building with youth, we can’t just turn over keys [to the Knights of Pythias] and allow them to have their own space and to have access to it any time; it would be our building, not their building.”

The Stockert Youth & Community Center is owned by the City of Buckhannon and is funded through the city’s general fund.

City Recorder Randy Sanders said he thinks it would be more productive to let city attorney Tom O’Neill negotiate with the lawyer the Knight of Pythias employed to represent them, Allison Farrell of Jenkins Fenstermaker PLLC in Clarksburg.

“Lawyers take the emotion out of the discussion; they’re two people who have a job to do and serve their clients,” Sanders said. “I think going further, we should let the two lawyers do all the talking.”

Skinner said the Knights hired their lawyer because they thought the city was going to utilize eminent domain and take the property through legal action.

“When they felt a threat that we were going to come in and just take the property through legal action, that’s what started them down the road of hiring legal counsel,” Skinner said, “but that has not happened, I sincerely hope that that does not happen because we will gain nothing by going down that road. I think we would actually shoot the entire project in the foot if we went down that road.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner

O’Neill said he was willing and able to reach out to the Knights’ attorney to discuss a price, but the city can only pay fair market value for the building.

“At the end of the day, the [state] statute requires the city to pay fair value; it does not require the city to pay what they want, and the fair value provision of the state constitution is there for two reasons,” O’Neill said. “First, and most obviously, they’re protecting the landowners, so they are fairly compensated for the land, and the other reason is to protect the public as well, to protect the public from being taken advantage of.”

O’Neill also reminded the board about the donor agreement the city made with Citizens Bank of West Virginia, when they donated $100,000 to the project.

“The donor agreement with Citizens Bank for the $100,000 requires this facility be constructed five years from the date of the gift,” O’Neil said. “Now, in light of COVID, I was thinking that with the approval of the mayor or the board that we reach out and ask for an extension on that, given that COVID kind of threw us out for a loop here. They might grant it, and they might not. At the end of the day if the donor agreement governs our use of that $100,000, we have certain responsibilities and I think with respect to this property, it has to be pointed out that one of the terms of the donor agreement is that the facility be built on Main Street, so please keep that in mind as you’re going forward.”

Board member Don Nestor said the board should let the two lawyers discuss a fair price and see what happens.

“We cannot pay more than fair price, so could you (O’Neill) go back to their attorney and say, ‘we can’t pay more than fair price,’ we could get another appraisal –whatever that is – but we can’t pay more than what it’s worth and if they come back and say it’s worth $300,000, we don’t have to buy it,” Nestor said.

The board decided to let O’Neill get in touch with the other lawyer and move forward from there.

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