By ADAM SWIFT
PEABODY — The City Council is supporting the lease of downtown office space for school administration, but some councilors question how that move will affect long-term plans for the district.
Thursday night, the council voted 7-3 to enter into a lease for 6,000 square feet of office space at 27 Lowell St. With the lease, about 18 school administrators will move from their current offices at the otherwise unused Kiley Elementary School in West Peabody.
“This will benefit the city in a number of ways,” said Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. Having the office for the superintendent, assistant superintendent, finance director and other administrators downtown puts them closer to a greater number of students and families and should help spur local businesses, the mayor said.
The new offices will also provide a more professional setting.
“The conditions at the Kiley School are subpar,” said Bettencourt. “It is a substandard building that we have concerns about and not a professional space worthy of the talent working in the school administration offices.”
The office space at 27 Lowell St. is owned by Luciano Dinis of Peabody. The rent for the first year of the lease, according to the agreement, is $6,000 per month. That rate rises to $6,500 per month in July of 2018, and $7,000 per month in July of 2019.
The majority of the lease costs will be offset by energy saving costs at the Kiley School, Bettencourt said. The city currently spends about $90,000 per year on utilities at the Kiley, he said.
While a number of councilors supported moving the administrators out of a subpar building and closer to City Hall, there were questions about how the move would play into the potential future renovation of the Kiley School.
Ward 1 Councilor Jon Turco said the city sent a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for the renovation of the Kiley School. If the MSBA gives the okay, the state could reimburse up to 56 percent of the potential $15 million in renovations needed to bring the school back online as classroom space.
Using the Kiley School for some special education and early childhood education programs would free up space at other elementary schools in the district and help ease overcrowding, according to Bettencourt.
If the reimbursement is not approved by the MSBA, Turco said the district could be faced with larger redistricting issues.
“The issue I have is that we are moving the school administration out of the Kiley in hopes of getting the MSBA loan to renovate the Kiley and maybe move some kids out of the Brown and other schools,” said Turco. “If that doesn’t happen, I’m asking (Bettencourt) as the chairman of the School Committee and the mayor to look at redistricting and see what we can do to alleviate overcrowding in the schools.”
Council President Joel Saslaw suggested the council hold off voting on the lease for 60 days to see if the MSBA approves the Kiley proposal. The state agency is expected to make a decision on the statement of interest in July, according to Bettencourt.
Turco also questioned why the city was looking to lease the former Lowell Street law offices when the building was up for sale just over a year ago for about $550,000.
“You had said you were looking to relocate for several years,” said Turco. “The total lease amount over five years is approximately the same amount as the purchase price for the building. Why didn’t we just purchase this building so we would have something to show for it after five years?”
School administration and the mayor considered purchasing the building, but Bettencourt said there were several factors that played into making leasing more desirable. He said the cost of upgrades to the Lowell Street building would significantly add to the cost, and that he also did not consider the move a long-term solution to housing the school administration. Future renovations or additions to the high school could include space for district administration offices, the mayor said.
Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz voted against the lease, saying he would rather see the schools utilize existing space at the high school or another school rather than leasing new office space.
Saslaw and Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin also voted against the lease agreement.