Marshalling a plan for former school building

May 25, 2017

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — City officials presented a plan to sell the former Thurgood Marshall Middle School on Porter Street on Thursday night, for a potential reuse that could include senior market-rate housing and a commercial component. But school officials opted to take no action.

City Council President Darren Cyr and James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, presented the option to the School Committee, requesting that the 19 Porter St. property be transferred to the Public Property Committee of the City Council to prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for its sale to a developer.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, chairwoman of the School Committee, said she was looking for the committee to make a motion to approve the transfer of the site, with a minimum asking price and timeline for when that sale could be complete. If those conditions weren’t met, the property would revert back to the School Committee.

School Committee members opted to set that minimum sales price at $4 million, and require the sale be completed within a year. The other condition set was that a School Committee member, John Ford, would sit on the RFP committee, the board responsible for preparing the document.

Ultimately, the School Committee opted to table a vote on the transfer of the property until their next meeting, upon a motion made by member Donna Coppola. Coppola said she wanted to take time to allow the committee’s attorney time to research the matter. Voting against the motion to table were Kennedy and Patricia Capano, vice-chair.

Cyr said the initial plan was to demolish the former Marshall Middle School, but a contractor reached out to city officials and wanted to buy it. His vision for the building wasn’t the vision the city had, but it let officials know there was interest in the property, Cyr said.

Lamanna said the cost to demolish the building is estimated at $2.2 million, which was part of the money bonded by the voters for the construction of the new Marshall Middle School, which opened last year on Brookline Street. If that money is not used for demolition, he said legally it could only be used for capital projects that could be bonded for 25 years, which would likely be for the construction of new buildings or additions on the school side. If the property is sold, he said the proceeds would go toward bondable projects more than five years. The proceeds would basically go into a reserve fund that would allow the city to plan ahead if, for example, a boiler in a building went.

Ford said he knows the issue is to sell the building and get some cash for the city in a cash drop situation, but he was hesitant about selling any more school property. He said there was some uncertainty about whether there would be any potential buyers, and he couldn’t see anybody paying big money for some place that’s going to cost lots of money to remediate.

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“We’re in a city where we’re land strapped,” Ford said. “We’re land poor. I don’t want to eliminate jobs on the city side. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I really find myself in a position where it’s going to be hard for me to vote to give up any land.”

Kennedy was in favor of the transfer. For 25 years being in public life, she said she also disagreed with selling public land and felt that in most cases, it was better to bank that land.

“The reason why I’m capitulating on this particular piece of land, is that first of all it’s not big enough to build a new modern middle school, so that idea is right out,” Kennedy said. “So, it would only be usable for an elementary school or something of that size. It’s not appropriate for a police or a fire station or anything because it’s basically, it’s on a residential street.”

She said she was more comfortable letting go of this piece of land, because it wouldn’t even be appropriate for a new Cobbet or Tracy Elementary School, because it would be out of that general area of the city.

“And in light of the difficulties that we’re having making the budget come together in this year, it seems like a piece of land that may not be as valuable to the city as someplace that was located deeper into West Lynn,” Kennedy said.

Cyr said an RFP would potentially be to solicit bids for a mixed use, which would include senior market-rate apartments, as well as some commercial use, such as doctors’ offices that would cater to seniors. A small portion of those units, because of federal funding, could be allocated as affordable, he added. He said there is a true need for senior housing at marketable rate in Lynn.

Lamanna said the building was last assessed at $8 million. He said the Massachusetts School Building Authority funded the new Marshall Middle School because the assessment was that the old school on Porter Street was beyond repair. Cyr said it would cost upwards of $50 million to bring the former school up to today’s standards, for it to be restructured for a school use.

Cyr said he was a lot more hopeful after Thursday’s meeting that the transfer would be approved by the School Committee.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.