The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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January 17, 2014

Railroad may provide land for Conneaut sports complex parking

CONNEAUT — Talks are continuing that could lead to the Norfolk Southern Railway leasing land to the Conneaut school district that could serve as a parking lot for the new sports complex taking shape near the Conneaut High School football stadium.

At issue is a strip of railroad-owned property on the north side of Madison Street between Center Street and Reig Avenue. The land sits between Madison and NS tracks. Late last year, NS contacted the Conneaut Area City Schools district to offer the property for a possible parking lot. The railroad would lease the land for $1 a year.

“It’s land (NS) doesn’t have a use for,” board member Joan Norton said at Wednesday night’s work session.

School board members met this week with NS representatives and were excited by what they heard.

“It was very informative and very encouraging,” Norton said. “(The railroad) would like to do this.”

A legal agreement between the parties, which will include the length of the lease, will precede the start of any work, members said. Still to be determine is which party will be responsible for clearing land and prepping the parcel for a parking purpose.

“If it’s the school district, we’ll have to do it as cheaply as possible,” said Superintendent Kent Houston.

If the project proceeds, it’s possible a parking lot could be in place in time for the start of the 2014 CHS football season, members said.

Parking proved a big headache for the Conneaut school district last fall. Police aggressively enforced parking regulations around the football stadium at various events, and the tickets handed out angered school officials. Police Chief Charles Burlingham said motorists were blatantly ignoring parking rules.

Parking needs will multiply this year when the district’s $685,000 track-field complex opens in the spring. The railroad land sits directly across the street from the track-field site.

There’s also a chance railroad land adjacent to the long-closed General Electric plant at Maple and Reig avenues may also be reworked for a parking use in the future. “We are thinking big,” said board member Suzanne Bernardini.

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