Coventry Lane Home Will Not Be Bought

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After communications turned up during a search for public records requests, one of which was from WOUB, involving donations by the owner of the Coventry Lane property where Ohio University President Roderick McDavis is currently living, the university has decided not to take an option to buy the property.

A lease agreement was entered into by the university for 31 Coventry Lane, with owner John Wharton, after a bat infestation to the president’s official home at 29 Park Place caused an injury to First Lady Deborah McDavis and made the home “no longer safe or prudent” to live in, according to Stephen Golding, vice president of finance and administration. Repairs and remediation to the home could not be done while the couple lived there, according to Golding.

Work on 29 Park Place is set to be completed “this calendar year,” Golding said in a press conference Monday afternoon.

But the option to buy the home has been taken off the table to avoid the appearance of “impropriety” based on new information received by the university. The lease agreement will expire in June 2017, which is a “sufficient length of time” to make the repairs to the home and for the university to decide whether Park Place will continued to be used as a presidential home, Golding said.

Golding released a statement Monday saying employees in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics received an “unsolicited verbal communication” from Wharton, in which he expressed his intention to “continue paying on a previous pledge and to make a future gift to the university,” according to the statement.

“A record of the communication was first created by the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Development on March 23 — several days after the lease agreement had been signed,” Golding stated.

OU General Counsel John Biancamano said Wharton had committed to a donation of $100,000 and had so far paid $10,000 of the gift.

The record was found by Bryan Benchoff, president and CEO of the OU Foundation, on March 26. University General Counsel John Biancamano was informed “immediately,” according to Golding. McDavis said he was “not aware of any conversations that had occurred between (Wharton) and anyone in the Athletics Department.”

“We have been fully transparent during our decision-making process,” McDavis said during the press conference. “We will continue this commitment of full disclosure, which is the reason for (Golding’s) statement today.”

Based on the discovery of the communication, Golding informed the chair of the Board of Trustees and the chair of the OU Foundation that he would not exercise the buying of the option.

“We wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety and that is exactly why I am taking the action that I am taking today in terms of my recommendation,” Golding said.

The timing of the repairs and the lease agreement “coincides with the Comprehensive Master Plan” that the university has laid out, Golding said in the conference. The master plan, which was introduced to the OU Board of Trustees in March 2014, includes a proposal to make Park Place a Student Commons, with the option to utilize 29 Park Place in the commons plan.

Biancamano declined to speculate on whether the university would have known about the communications between Wharton and the athletics department if not for the public records requests.

“We’re prepared to talk about what we know now and when we learned it,” Biancamano said.

Golding said it would be “premature” to say anything is being planned prior to the approval of the comprehensive plan, which he hopes will be adopted in March 2016. He denied the fact that recent rallies at 29 Park Place had any affect on the decision.

A member of the OU Student Union, Ryant Taylor, who was a vocal leader of the rallies, spoke up during the press conference to ask about transparency in the university, and released a statement in his capacity as Student Senate presidential candidate with the BARE ticket.

“It is completely disingenuous to assert that the university was unaware of widespread concern about questionable allocation of university funds,” Taylor wrote in an email to media.