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State College School District Fires Back in College Heights Lawsuit

by on July 31, 2014 5:45 AM

The State College Area School District seems to face one hurdle after another when it comes to selling the College Heights School.

The latest hurdle came last week in the form of a lawsuit filed by five people claiming to be heirs to the couple who sold land to the district in the 1920s for construction of the College Heights School.

Now, with the district poised to sell the school property to Penn State University, the heirs argue the district should actually return ownership to the family.

The school district fired back this week, filing preliminary objections to the suit and asking Centre County Common Pleas Court to dismiss the case.

In 1922, Adam and Rebecca Krumrine sold the land to the district for $1 allowing the district to build the school. Now, the district is in the process of selling the school to Penn State University.

C. William Garner, Helen Garbrock, Michael Homan, George Homan and Edward Homan claim in the suit that if the district no longer uses the property for "school purposes," ownership should revert back to the family.

There are multiple deeds to the property, one drafted in 1922 saying the site must be used for "school purposes" and a school constructed at the site by Jan. 1, 1927 otherwise "the deed is to be null and void and of no effect, full title to the property to revert to the grantors, their heirs and assigns."

In 1926, another deed was drafted extending the timeline to construct the school to Sept. 1, 1931.

The family's attorney, G. Scott Gardner of Williamsport, argues in the lawsuit that the district "failed to meet the conditions set forth in the aforesaid deed. ... Accordingly, because the defendant is no longer using the subject property for 'school purposes,' said property reverts to plaintiffs...by virtue of the aforesaid covenants and conditions."

District Solicitor Scott Etter told StateCollege.com the lawsuit has "several factual errors" and "is without legal merit."

Etter drafted preliminary objections to the suit this week, in which he argues the deed's language: "this plot of ground is to be used for school purposes," is "superfluous" and does not debase the defendant's ownership as the condition was not coupled with language ordering reversion of ownership.

"The only language alleged to be contained in either deed by the plaintiffs' complaint refers to the erection of a school building, which plaintiffs' complain admits occurred," Etter says.

Additionally, Etter argues the plaintiffs are premature in alleging the property is no longer being used for "school purposes," as stated in the deed, as the school district still owns the property. Etter says the alleged restrictive covenant would only apply if the district takes the property outside of "school purposes."

Etter also challenges the heirs who filed the suit, saying the lawsuit includes no documentation supporting claims that they are indeed heirs to the Krumines and the suit lacks explanation as to whether the five people who filed the suit are the couple's only heirs. If there are other heirs, Etter says they are necessary parties in the legal action.

"The plaintiffs have therefore not plead facts sufficient for the defendant to prepare a defense, or sufficient to establish that plaintiffs have the capacity to sue as heirs of Adam H. Krumine and Rebecca Krumine," Etter says.

In an interview with StateCollege.com, Gardner defended the lawsuit.

"Everything in the lawsuit is accurate. The deeds are there. It's all spelled right out in the deeds," he says.

The College Heights School was built in 1931 and was once an elementary school. The property, located at 721 N Atherton St., includes a 14,000 square foot structure sitting on two acres of prime real estate.

In January, the university agreed to pay the school district $400,000 for the property to house University Press offices, which the district hasn't used as a school in years.

However, first, the district had to allow State College borough right of first refusal to the property. After six months and several public meetings, borough council voted not to exercise its right to purchase the property. Shortly afterwards, the family filed its lawsuit against the district.

The university says the non-profit press does not print books on site. It has roughly 30 employees and operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an occasional event, such as a book signing, after hours.

The building has a slew of issues due to its age, such as asbestos, radon, inadequate insulation and more. The university predicted it would have to spend roughly $600,000 on renovations immediately and then another $1 million over time. The agreement with the school district also includes a clause for Penn State to not sell or lease the property to another K-12 institution for 20 years, which would create competition for the school district.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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