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Controversial Property Sale To Islamic School Consulting Firm Terminated In Lawrence Co.

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SHENANGO TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- The former Youth Development Center site in Shenango Township has been vacant for years with the state paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for security and to maintain the property.

The Commonwealth put the land up for sale and accepted a bid, but the sale is not a done deal after all.

It was on Republican State Rep. Aaron Bernstine's Facebook page where people learned that the controversial sale of this property had been terminated.

Rep. Bernstine said in part: "In western Pennsylvania, we can do anything. Republicans and Democrats working together for a common cause. The long nightmare is over in Lawrence County."

The company whose bid for the property had already been accepted by the state was called HIRA Educational Services, based in New Jersey. It's a consulting firm for Islamic schools.

The property would have been converted into an alternative reform school for troubled youth.

Rep. Bernstine, a Republican lawmaker representing Lawrence County, said, "We found there were several things that didn't pass the smell test. The would-be buyer lacked sufficient funds to buy the property, and he was operating a business out of a one-room apartment in New Jersey."

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Office of General Services said that HIRA was unable to make a $360,000 payment on the property, and Monday was the property closing date.

He explained it was a mutual inability to meet the sale's contractual agreement.

Jon Pushinsky, a Pittsburgh attorney representing HIRA, said the Commonwealth was unable to complete its part of the deal. That is to turn over the deed, because Shenango Township interfered with the property owner and the willing buyer.

Pushinsky said HIRA still wanted to purchase the property and would consider participating in any future bidding process.

Shirley Sellman, of New Castle, has been a leading critic of the YDC sale.

Sellman told KDKA-TV's Ralph Iannotti, "I'm very happy today, God has answered our prayers. We still have so many questions that were never answered, right from the beginning."

The state says there's no precise timetable, but it expects to put the property back up for bids in the near future.

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