The city’s school district is auctioning off three building that have been unoccupied for years. School board members agreed to sell the former Board of Education complex on Church Street, the old School 5 on Totowa Avenue, and the former St. Paul’s Lutheran Church building on Smith Street.
Starting bid for the former Board of Education building is $2.25 million. Starting bid for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church building is $1.75 million. And $1.4 million for the old School 5, according to district documents.
Some school board members favored selling the buildings while others opposed it fearing charter schools will take advantage to increase their enrollment and siphon more money from the cash-strapped school system.
“We have buildings that are sitting there that could be revenue generators,” said school board president Christopher Irving. These abandoned buildings have become blights in the neighborhoods where they are located, he said. For example, the area outside of the old School 5 has turned into a site for illegal dumping.
School board members Jonathan Hodges and Lilisa Mimms argued the sale of the buildings will invite in charter schools seeking space to start or expand.
“I’m cautioning us,” said Hodges. He said charter schools have moved into old school buildings that have been auctioned off by other school districts elsewhere in New Jersey.
Mimms wanted to restrict the building to non-charter use following sale.
She wanted to know the cost to rehabilitate the three buildings.
Steve Morlino, director of facilities at the Paterson Public Schools, said it will cost $4-$5 million to repair the buildings which suffer from asbestos, mold, roof leaks, and pipe damage.
“We sell things we own and we’re leasing and paying for someone else’s property,” remarked Mimms. She pointed to the lease of the Alexander Hamilton Academy building in downtown Paterson.
The school board voted to extend that lease by five years. It will pay $4.5 million to lease that building for five years.
Acting school superintendent Eileen Shafer said the Alexander Hamilton Academy has 700 students. Those buildings being sold could not accommodate such a large number of students. She also said the district does not have the funds to bankroll the rehabilitation of the three buildings being sold.
School board members voted 4-2-1 to sell the buildings. Mimms and Hodges voted against while Emanuel Capers abstained.