Five former schools will be auctioned tentatively this February. The schools represent 1/3 of the total of vacant schools the city currently has.
It's understandable why the city would want to move forward on disposing of the Belisle, Coughlin, Lincoln, Brayton Avenue, and old Henry Lord schools. The sale of any of the buildings would generate some much needed revenue for the city not only from the purchase but also from real estate tax. Selling the buildings would also save the city money as Fall River would no longer have to pay to maintain and secure the buildings and grounds. The city would also not have pay for utilities such as heat and electricity. Besides if the city has no clear use for the buildings it's better to see them developed in some way shape or form than to sit and deteriorate further.
The problem is there was a whole lot of talk about getting community input to decide the fate of these buildings. What ever happened with that? I haven't heard much about what the input amounted to, or how it will be used by city officials. After all these buildings pretty much served as a prominent cornerstone for the neighborhoods they once served. Making sure that their future development fits in with the character of the neighborhoods and at the same time makes sense for the future of the city should be the top priority. So I'm dismayed to read in the Herald News article that Attorney Torres saying that properties would be sold to the highest qualifying bidder.
Selling these properties to the highest bidder may seem like the wisest move, especially considering the tough financial situation Fall River finds itself in, but the reality is it is much more important to award these properties to the bidders who have the best long-term proposal. The best proposal should be one that fits the character of the neighborhood and makes sense for the future of the city. It may be that in one instance it is more desirable to tear down the existing building to develop a new building. If that is consistent with the character of the neighborhood, the needs of the city, and represents the best investment in the property (which should take into consideration future taxes generated, and potential job creation) then this is the offer that should be accepted; even if that means turning down one that offers more cash initially but in the long-term will do little to benefit the city.
Attorney Torres mentions that the Lincoln School might be an ideal site for owner occupied condominiums and I would agree. However I think it might also be worth discussing it as a possible site for the Antioch School. I know they have expressed interest in the Highland School, but so has the Children's Museum and so has Truesdale Clinic. Why not see if the school, which is currently closer to the Lincoln might not have some interest in the that site? Torres also discusses the Belisle and mentioned that with 5 acres of land there could be " a half-dozen house lots" placed there. Is he implying tearing down the school and developing 6 house lots? In Fall River 5 acres equals about 20 house lots! Do we really want to see a realistically dozen houses crammed into that space? If so where will those kids go to school? The Viveiros School is already at maximum capacity. Perhaps the Belisle shouldn't be sold. Originally the master school plan called for the school to be kept and expanded in capacity at some point in the future. Why, if the original plan called for expanding it and with the nearest school already at capacity are we looking to sell it?
Again, we should be looking and actively working for proposals that best suit our long term needs. Selling Belisle to developers for house lots may bring put cash in our pockets now, and heck maybe even return some nice real estate tax but that has to be factored against the impact on the neighborhood and the cost of services that we will have to provide. And in the case of Belisle I think we really need to answer the question are we sure we're not going to need it and if so how do we replace it? Condos may be a perfect fit for Lincoln, but Antioch may better proposal on the grounds that it would free up the Highland and possibly allow us to develop two beneficial proposals instead of hoping for a suitable develops for the Lincoln.
Back in 2006 we bid out the former police station stressing that we were going to award it to the best proposal. Through a comic series of missteps we concluded we should have appraised the building first to determine value and went and decided to re-auction the building. Now with an established "value" the minimum bid was much higher than the previous winning bid. Of course the second time around the city accepted a much higher bid but look at what has happened to the property. Any additional profit made has long ago been spent. Had we gone with the original bid, even at a much lower value today that property would house a new office complex and would be generating revenue for the city in the way of higher real estate taxes.
We need to make sure we get this right and that we auction of these properties in a way that is going to benefit the city not just today but years from now. We need to get this right because after these 5 schools we have 10 more to go.