Council Discusses Land Swap

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Thursday October 29, 2015

At the October 13 steering committee meeting, the city made a proposal to the school board that involved a land swap: the Rick Marcotte Central School (RMCS) property for the Oak Creek building site. The idea is that the city could use the RMCS property on Market Street to advance their goals for City Center, while the school could use the Oak Creek site (and, perhaps additional adjacent property) to build a new elementary school.

Although both Superintendent David Young and most of the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force members support the idea of moving to one consolidated elementary school and re-purposing the other buildings, the school board as a whole has yet to complete their due diligence. The factors they are examining are many and include legislative mandates, budget and demographic concerns, opportunities for students, and of course, public feedback.

The school board has not yet taken a position on the city’s offer nor has it decided RMCS should be sold. In the first council meeting since the presentation of this proposal, councilors had a chance to share their views on the meeting.

Councilors said it is obvious the community is anxious to weigh in and agreed that the school, rather than the city, should be the entity to conduct a survey, poll, or forum. They also recognized the financial pressures the school district faces as a result of legislative mandates. The council acknowledged they do not ultimately have a say in whether or not a school is sold.

City Councilor Helen Riehle said, “We have pushed the conversation, which is good ... it gives people something to think about ... I understand the school’s response is they aren’t ready yet ... clearly, public engagement is very important and would be in all of our interests since we will be asking the public to make some big decisions.”

Councilor Meaghan Emery pointed out that the school informed the city of financial obligations they were not aware of such as tuition students, Act 46, and the capping of property taxes. “There has to be a clear communication to the public with a cost/benefit analysis projection,” Emery said.

Chair Pat Nowak also referenced the work of the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force and was disappointed in the response of the school board. “I feel like we’ve gone backwards . . . there’s more opposition and questioning, but I realize it’s a school decision and in deference to that, maybe there won’t be a sale, or a sale of one school.” Nowak said it would be prudent to have appraisals done of their properties as the school district is in the process of doing with theirs. Dorn said that process is in motion and that the city is keeping their options open. He hopes to come to the council soon with other ideas.

Only one member of the audience spoke out on this issue. Development review board member Tim Barritt said, “I’m opposed to losing any school unless you can show me a good financial reason why. None of the reasons given make any sense at this point. There are a lot of people behind me and there is a groundswell building. You have a fiduciary responsibility not to waste the taxpayers’ money ... be careful what you put in front of the voters, because a lot of it isn’t going to fly, just be prepared for that contingency.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent