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Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick stands inside the old Iron House School built in 1896 in Oakley on Thursday, June 20, 2013, where the city of Oakley has determined that the school has been remodeled so extensively that it no longer had enough historical value to warrant moving and will be destroyed. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

OAKLEY -- The search for a missing school bell at an old Oakley schoolhouse slated for demolition has uncovered an unexpected find: $100,000 earmarked for moving the structure instead.

The City Council voted last week to have the former Iron House School dismantled to make way for a developer that wants to start grading the area just north of East Cypress Road and Sellers Avenue where the building has stood in its current form for 41 years.

Built in 1896, the one-room Iron House School was converted into a house after it closed in the 1930s and became the property of the Emerson family.

The Sellers Avenue home underwent additional remodeling in the 1970s and now bears little resemblance to its original design.

Gone are the bell tower and the wraparound veranda that once graced the school. The once-steeply pitched roof has been significantly modified and some of the exterior walls were torn down as the owners built out.

"Although it was old there was no architectural value left in it," said Mayor Kevin Romick, who personally inspected the interior of the two-story home late last month. "You change it in such a significant way, it's hard to say it's a schoolhouse."

Had the building resembled the quaint-looking church with the bell tower at Main Street and Live Oak, "I would have moved it in a heartbeat," he added.

During the council's June 11 discussion about what to do with the unkempt structure, Romick wondered aloud if anyone knew what had happened to the Iron House School's bell, which at some point had disappeared along with the wooden tower.

Someone suggested that the Ironhouse Sanitary District had it in temporary storage, but no one knew for certain.

This newspaper tracked it down to the Emerson family, which used to own the house and in 1972 had it moved north from the East Cypress/Sellers intersection, closer to the dairy it operated nearby.

The dairy closed in 2003 and the Emersons left, selling the house and part of the property it sat on to a developer.

"I just took it and put it away," Oakland resident Stan Emerson said of the iron bell, explaining that he removed it along with the tower for safekeeping.

Upon learning of the city's plans to destroy the home, Emerson expressed disappointment, saying he had put $100,000 into an escrow account to cover the cost of moving and renovating it.

News of the funds came as a surprise to Oakley city officials because the memorandum of understanding that Emerson and two other families had signed with the city stipulated that an escrow account would be set up only if the city decided to relocate the house.

No one at City Hall recalls receiving a notice that the account with a title company had been opened, said Nancy Marquez, assistant to the city manager.

Although the city doesn't own the house, the environmental impact report that the developer had to complete specifies that Oakley reserves the right to determine whether the house can be relocated.

Now that the city council has decided the structure's questionable historical value doesn't warrant saving it, the current owner, Brookfield Homes, will carry out its instructions even though there would be no cost to the city for transporting it.

The incentive to salvage the home notwithstanding, finding a city-owned parcel could be a problem, said Josh Roden, Brookfield's vice president of land and planning.

"One of the big questions is where do you put it?" he said.

The city had planned for years to move it the equivalent of a few blocks away to a 55-acre area at the end of Sellers Avenue just north of the Contra Costa Canal that it wants to turn into a park. However, it doesn't yet own that property, which is still in escrow, Roden said.

But if someone can find a new address for the former school, Mayor Romick wouldn't stand in the way and he doubts his colleagues would, either.

"Hey, move it," he said. "We have no problem with that."

Unless that happens, however, Romick said the council's decision stands.

Roden said his company hasn't discussed when it would raze the house because it hasn't yet received official notification from the city of its decision to have it dismantled.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.