So after more than 2 years Fall River officials are NOW trying to fast track the process of selling off and determining what to do with 15 surplus school buildings. It's kind of shocking that some of this leg work wasn't done YEARS ago when the schools were still open. It's rather pathetic that we've sat on and maintained 15 buildings (some, I think, for close to a decade) and haven't come up with any real course of action. Of course there has always been some interest in selling off these buildings and bringing in some much needed revenue for the city. I'm not really sure how much some of these buildings are worth. Some date back well over 100 years and are probably a nightmare for renovators, possibly filled with lead and asbestos. The cost to renovate and repurpose for homes, offices, or other uses could potentially be more than the cost of demolition and building new. For some of these buildings the city may find much less interest and for much less money than some of our officials believe. But then there is the other problem, it could be that these schools are too valuable to sell.
Oh, I'm not implying that we should keep them all. I'm simply saying that we have 15 properties that we have the ability to do whatever we want with and in some cases it might make more sense to do something with these properties other than selling them. Of course the big idea that has been floated around is giving one to the Children's Museum. Personally I've been in favor of this for at least a couple of years now and I have been stating that THE best location is the NB Borden School. Now I know this was just recently suggested at City Council Committee meeting and has been criticized by commentors on the Herald News website, but I think the downtown site is ideal. The Children's Museum can be a real catalyst for bringing people into our city and helping revitalize Fall River's downtown. The blacktopped area should provide ample parking and if need be traffic patterns around the building could be altered to make for easier access. Selling NB Borden MIGHT bring some immediate revenue to the city's coffers but donating it or leasing it to the Children's Museum has the potential for a much greater long term impact. The city has talked about utilizing the Stone School for in-house special education but I have to wonder if the Belisle School with its newer construction and one floor layout wouldn't make more sense. Certainly the interest expressed by Cathy Ann Viveiros should be considered as well. Ironically converting the school into apartments, condos, or tearing it down to build houses would seem a bad idea because the elementary schools that serve that part of the city are already at capacity. Which makes me wonder if it might be worth putting back into service?
By the same token I think the Laurel Lake site is far too valuable a location, from a commercial standpoint, to turn into parkland. This IS an area ideal for development where the city could probably get top dollar. The Carroll School, on the other hand SHOULD be leveled and converted to parking lot for the new Morton Middle. It is a lucky coincidence that the property is so near, no longer in use, and already city owned.
Lefty's View: Figuring out what is the best use of these properties and what the city would LIKE to see developed there is key and really should have been done YEARS ago. Obviously some historical preservation should be considered and those schools that are deemed to be the best choices for restoration should be marketed with that expectation. The city should be willing to take less money or possibly give it away for a proposal that is ideally suited for the building and the neighborhood it is situated in. This is a lesson we should have learned from the fiasco with the police station. Selling our resources for the short term gain of getting "top dollar" is a mistake we should NEVER make again.