Politics of the Old Union School: Understanding the inner workings of preserving history

Well of course Ronald Hicks, vice president for SHP Leading Design defended his efforts with Patti Alderson and my old friend Bob Hutsenpiller from No Lakota Levy to demolish the Old Union School with a brand new Boys and Girls Club of West Chester/Liberty with a $6.5 million dollar facility—by saying, “If any entity other than an education-based organization wanted to function in the structure, the occupancy of the building would change.  That in turn would require a change of use for the facility, which would trigger ‘substantial wholesale upgrading of the building to current code requirements in order to change the function.”  As I listened to Hicks speak about such invisible mountains of opposition I turned to lock eyes with the leaders of West Chester development—they were literally in the room and could easily handle such a change of use.  But the elephant in the room wasn’t really about such concerns—it was a simple deflection to hide the real mechanisms of power percolating within the Lakota school district.  The accusation that any other option was simply too hard for the old historic building was intended to mask the politics at play, CLICK HERE to read how the Journal News reported the issue.

The June 30th 2015th event was a who’s who of local politics as many of the heavy hitters from behind the scenes of most things political in Butler County were present.  As I spoke to Randy Oppenheimer telling him honestly that I thought he was doing a good job as the Lakota spokesman, even if he was on the wrong side of things, another old friend of mine Mark Sennet was standing behind me talking to Lakota treasurer Jenni Logan and Karen Mantia about how the area developers have always been for Lakota schools.  Mark was also in No Lakota Levy with me and on this issue was against the tearing down of the old school.  But his dialogue was interesting.  The next time there is a levy fight, I won’t be using the developers as a way to defeat the levy.  It was in fact their lack of passion and commitment to hold strong that caused the last levy to be successfully passed.  They were all too willing to side with Patti Alderson because she’s always good for potential projects down the road, such as this Boys and Girls Club deal.  They were able to argue higher taxes and the impact to further development, but did not have the conviction to hold their line in such public forums, which was clearly what Mark was revealing quite openly.

To continue an answer to Randy about why I have so many blog postings and say so many things within those postings, it’s really to provoke thought from those who need to think more intensely about any given topic.  For instance, there are elements to this Old Union School discussion that I can cover at this site that you simply won’t read in the Cincinnati Enquirer or the Journal News.  Both news outlets were present, but they are not given the kind of space in their newspapers to cover the complete story, only the surface issues.  In this case going back to the year before the Alderson/Lakota deal I was leading No Lakota Levy against the next tax increase attempt, we had a nice little press conference at Bob Hutsenpeller’s office within view of the Lakota East high school facility.  I had Channel 19 there as well as Channel 5, and 9.  I also had the Cincinnati Enquirer there giving Michael Clark an exclusive on a story where Patti Alderson refused to work with me on helping kids pay for their high sports fees at Lakota—which was an extortion racket designed to build support for a tax increase.  Since Patti refused to help the kids then by working with No Lakota Levy—because of the politics of the situation, she and the Lakota school board worked directly with Michael Clark to write a hit peace on me hoping to break up No Lakota Levy.  When it really pissed me off to the point of near violence they asked for a two-year cease-fire to regroup.  During that time they went to work on Bob pulling him into an open alliance with Patti on this Boys and Girls Club project.  Bob is a good builder, and a good person.  He was the last one standing at the end, and it was hard for him.  This deal is an opportunity to repair some relationships and get involved in building something significant within the community.  Patti get’s to do some charity work which she likes to do, and the Lakota school system gets to marry together a major part of the tax increase resistance to an open levy supporter facilitator to deflect future opposition.  Everyone wins—right?  Wrong.  They left out some missing pieces to the puzzle.

I was surprised that Michael Clark didn’t want to come over and say hello to me.  Even with all our back and forth bickering, Karen Mantia said hello to me.  What many don’t know, and what I explained to Randy a little bit is that I primarily make my living pissing people off.  I work with people who outright hate me all the time, and I know that.  My goal in all these efforts is to dig out thoughts, to get to the root cause of any effort.  I don’t have a desire to be liked by anyone other than my wife, by anybody.  That gives me a lot of freedom to provoke honesty in people and their relationships to money.  Sure I’m angry at Clark.  On the day he wrote his hit piece against me I was on several professional conference calls around the city while radio stations were reading on the air the way he assembled many articles from this site into a context that greatly favored the pro levy crowd.  He all by himself threw turbo fuel on an already blazing inferno and he and the Lakota school board went for my jugular clearly.  But that wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in my life, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  So it surprised me that he didn’t even say hello.  When Karen asked where I’ve been, I told her I had been busy.  Lakota passed their levy and this Old Union School deal has been some of the most recent activity since the 2013 levy passage.  I’ve been focused on making an argument for a nationwide abandonment of public education all together, so haven’t cared much about the daily workings at Lakota—other than I don’t want to pay the taxes. But this Old Union School deal is something that affects all of West Chester, so I attended this meeting with interest, and I will get more involved in the future when Lakota tries for another levy. So Clark might as well get used to the fact that he’s going to have to see me around town.  No Lakota Levy did not die with the alliance of Bob and Patti, the ruckus of all that controversy was a recruiting tool for me to bring new blood to the fight—because the developers were wavering in their resistance.  That should have been obvious to all the smart people in the room.  So I wanted to thank Michael Clark for the hit piece—it showed the cards of all involved and helped me tremendously.  And at its roots, that is what is behind the Boys and Girls Club—and why I am against it, because of the cards involved that are hidden from the public.

I said in the Journal article that the school board did not solicit enough opportunities for the Old Union School project.  They simply took Patti’s offer bringing Bob with her and went right to work hiring Hicks to design as the architect.  He’s put in considerable effort so of course he’ll defend the project.  But the Old Union School sits in a region where a conscious effort to preserve the historic nature of West Chester is taking place.  Once Patti stamped her name on the deal most area developers knew to stay away, so there wasn’t much solicitation as far as options involving an auction of the property.  There are many buildings like the Old Union School in Norwood, Ohio for instance that have been converted to office buildings.  On the outside they have the architecture of Norwood’s traditions while on the inside they are contemporary.  Such an option would be a prime utilization for the Old Union School which is just down the road from Union Center and is just a football throw away from I-75 access.  Just across the highway are wonderful restaurants for lunch rushes, I would find it hard to believe that there are no takers out there for that type of development. I also brought it up in the meeting but there wasn’t much time to get into the meat of it, that due to declining enrollment, Lakota is facing the possibility of further school properties coming available.  My point to them was that Lakota didn’t need to control the Old Union School property as an asset, that they could afford to let it go to someone who would love it, and nurse it back to health.  An office complex there would make more money for the township, so zoning approval should be achievable.  The leaders of the community were there to answer that question, but Hicks didn’t really want to talk about it.  Hicks and his response were equivalent to a kid in the back seat of a car saying that he wanted to go to Disneyworld from Cincinnati, but he didn’t want to ride in a car the whole way.  It’s just too hard to ask for a change of use—in his eyes.  What he really meant was that he wanted to protect his time in the project and the commitment his client, Patti Alderson has in the endeavor now that it’s public.  It doesn’t have anything to do with hard or not.  It’s political purely and nothing more.

As usual Danielle Richardson did a good job of bringing debate to the table.   Without her this whole deal would have just been rubber stamped and packaged into the Lakota win column with great fanfare at the expense of the community.  She composed herself quite valiantly even though she is coming up on a July 8th variance hearing with West Chester trying to keep her pet chickens.  Chickens like the Old Union School is part of West Chester history and makes our community unique.  The people who judge top 10 communities around the country are the same type of people who typically support school levies, so their opinions are skewed toward progressivism.  Danielle has given me eggs from her chickens and they are quite good, better than the eggs you can get at the grocery—because her chickens are happy, and healthy, and proud West Chester residents.  So she has more than enough fights to deal with, and she composed herself well considering the implications.  She’s an Ayn Rand purist and doesn’t think she should have to get a variance from the “state” to keep her chickens—which she’s right.  But there are elements of West Chester politics who are breathing heavily down the necks of leadership to be one of those top 10 national communities.  They see “progress” as new buildings over old ones and measure their success by erasing history and writing their own.  Danielle is fighting for more than just chickens or the preservation of the Old Union School.  She is fighting to keep West Chester’s history a treasured memory—something all the powerful people in the room at the Lakota school board meeting need to take into account as they take steps forward that they can never again retract once committed.

It’s a complicated web of entanglements, but all politics is that way.  What matters is not whether or not people like you.  They can hate me from now until eternity.  What matters is that the right things happen, and sometimes people need to be challenged in order to do the right things.  I like the idea of an office complex going into the Old Union School preserving its history for the next century along a historic area of West Chester that needs to retain its old style charm amid booming development.  I also like the idea of stopping by Danielle’s house for fresh eggs they way I did when I was growing up and farmers handed out eggs like trick or treat candy in this region.  Then I like to go over and have lunch at Jags spending $300 on a nice big Oscar steak and a bottle of wine.  I like to have options and in regard to the Old Union School, because of Patti’s involvement, the best options for Lakota were ignored—and in the end that will cost them money in lost opportunity, and a place in preserving the history of an old school-house that is one of the last remnants of a disappearing past.

Rich Hoffman


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I write, and write, and write. And when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. I have too many hobbies. I read too many books and I don't sleep. There's just too much life to be lived to waste it for even a second.

4 thoughts on “Politics of the Old Union School: Understanding the inner workings of preserving history”

  1. Hey Rich,

    It was good to meet you at the meeting. I have to say the meeting made me want to vomit. I heard the term “good business decision” over a dozen times. As a guy who makes business decisions all day long I was dumbfounded that they think this is a good use of taxpayer dollars. The prudent thing to do would be to solicit offers from as many parties as possible, instead they march forward with blinders on blissfully ignorant to the fact that there are multiple options to save the school or even sell the property outright which would be much better for taxpayers. That or they are lying. It was evident at the meeting that this was not a business decision. This school board is clearly not a good steward of our dollars. It’s really too bad for the community.


    1. It was good to meet you as well. These government employees want to believe they are making “business decisions” but they are simply playing house like little kids simulating a tea party. They are mimicking adult behavior without completely understanding it. That’s why they need us to keep them in reality, to teach them the errors of their ways, just like we have to gradually teach children to grow up. It makes us angry when they assume to be as pretentious to contemplate that they are in charge, but when they are put into the context of their true nature, they are much more digestible.


    1. That’s true, however, I can’t run for school board to say I want to save it. I want to shut it down and privatize it. I’m not the kind of person who wants to run a day-to-day operation because I despise the entire system. I’m friends with a lot of school board members around the state and their hands are pretty tied up. Some of your clan would be more appropriate. If its me, they’ll just call me a bully. If it were you, they’d have to deal with you straight. But there would have to be two, not just one.


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