2014-11-27 / Schools

Long Branch selling off excess school properties

Staff Writer

LONG BRANCH — The Long Branch Public School District is nearing the homestretch in a yearlong initiative to sell off excess school buildings.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Salvatore said last week that the district has secured a purchaser for the century-old Church Street School building and is currently seeking buyers for the Star of the Sea Learning Annex and West End Elementary School.

In October, the Long Branch Board of Education reached an agreement with Jemals Church Street LLC for the acquisition of the school building for $550,000.

Salvatore said the district is in the final stages of transferring ownership of the Church Street building. A closing is expected before the end of the year.

“We are in the midst of going out to public auction for the items within the school, which is the final phase,” he said. “We hope that everything would be finalized by the end of December.”

The district sought bids on the Church Street School two other times during the past year, but failed to garner much interest. Under state law, when there are two failed bids, the district can enter into direct negotiations with potential buyers without a formal bid process, which facilitated the Jemals agreement.

The 16,634-square-foot Church Street School, which dates to the 1890s, is a twostory building that sits on a 1.45-acre site in the city’s R-3 residential zone. The building is currently used for storage.

According to district Business Administrator Peter Genovese, the Church Street School was one of the district’s original school buildings and hasn’t been in use for at least 20 years.

Also known as the North Long Branch School-Primary No. 3, the Church Street School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Salvatore said officials are also in discussions with a purchaser for the Star of the Sea School building, but talks are on hold because of an asbestos remediation issue.

“We had somebody provide us with an offer, but the board has to review that because it is pending certain remediation for the site,” he said.

Salvatore said it is unclear whether the district or a potential developer would fund the remediation.

“Of course, we don’t want to spend any more money on a building we are trying to get rid of, but I’m not sure a developer wants to invest a significant amount of funds on remediation,” he said. “Most developers want to spend money on developing.”

Much like the Church Street School, there have been two recent failed bid attempts for the purchase of the building, and the board is now able to negotiate directly.

The Star of the Sea Annex, which was formerly the elementary school for Star of the Sea Parish, was purchased by the district and has been used as an alternative school.

The school building, located on Chelsea Avenue, is a three-story main building with an attached annex sitting on less than an acre of property. It came offline six years ago.

While progress is being made on the sale of the two former school buildings, Salvatore said the former West End Elementary School building, also for sale, is on hold.

“We still have it up for sale — and no progress on that — but the board will probably decide in the next 60 days what route to go, whether it be an auctioneer or developer or talk about selling the property in another fashion,” he said.

“Since we had failed bids, we have the ability to negotiate now if somebody is interested.”

While the plan is to secure a buyer for the building, Salvatore said the district is not being impacted by the impasse.

“The sooner, the better — but we’re not in a rush,” he said. “We have minimal utilities down there; the property is small enough where we are not spending a significant amount of money to upkeep.

“We don’t want to collect old buildings and we’d certainly like to take it off our rolls, but we just don’t have a prospective buyer. The cost per month to maintain the facility is nominal.”

The West End School, located on West End Avenue, dates back to the early 1900s, with a portion of the structure built during the 1920s or 1930s.

District officials’ decision to sell the elementary school and two others came on the heels of a restructuring of all lower schools, along with the construction of the George L. Catrambone Elementary School in Elberon.

Earlier this year, the board accepted a $3.3 million bid on the school from the Menachem Learning Institute, better known as the Chabad of the Shore, which withdrew the bid in April.

According to Salvatore, the district also has plans to renovate the former Long Branch High School building on Westwood Avenue and convert it into an alternative school.

“We have submitted plans to the Department of Education for renovation, and we are looking at trying to get a shovel in the ground this spring for phase one, which would allow us to occupy that building in some fashion,” he said.

Salvatore said phase one is being funded by $3.9 million in funding from the N.J. Schools Development Authority (SDA). He said the district would need an additional $7 million to complete the final two phases.

Salvatore explained the project to renovate the high school, which closed in 2007 after the current Long Branch High School building on Indiana Avenue was opened.

“Phase one allows the building to be occupied and operational, but with limited options,” he said. “Phase two would give us more functional space, and phase three would be full completion.

“At this point, the vast majority of the environmental issues have been identified and remediated. A significant amount will be dedicated to bringing the building up to code.”

He said much of the work would include upgrades to various systems in the building, including fire suppression; HVAC; and basic utilities for electric, gas and water.

The SDA has invested more than $267 million in completed projects in the Long Branch school district, including construction of four other district schools funded using SDA monies.

These include $27.6 million for the Amerigo A. Anastasia School, $28.5 million for the new Gregory School, $62.2 million for the Long Branch Middle School and $81.2 million for Long Branch High School.

The district has an enrollment of approximately 5,500 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade. The school system educates approximately 1,150 preschool and kindergarten students.

Long Branch is one of the state’s 31 former Abbott districts, which receive increased state funding based on a 1985 court ruling that identified the state’s poorest districts based on poverty and educational inadequacy.

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