The school board is the rightful owner of the old School 5 on Totowa Avenue, declared the Chicago Title Insurance Company, paving the way for the $1 million sale of the building to real estate developer Cesar Pina and his wife.
“This is a great big win for Paterson Public Schools and the families we serve,” said superintendent Eileen Shafer. “We own the building. That means we’ll soon be tapping resources from its sale to continue bettering our programs for the children and families of Paterson.”
The school board approved the sale of the old School 5 five months ago. The district could not close on the property because an old deed stated the City of Paterson owned the building at 391 Totowa Avenue.
Attorney Barry Marell of Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro and Murphy convinced the title company to endorse the district’s ownership of the property. He argued school boards were first created through a 1903 New Jersey statute that include a provision that automatically transferred ownership of school properties to the newly established boards.
“I’m glad that the title company saw the logic and credibility of our argument so that Paterson schools will be able to realize some much-needed revenue,” said Marell.
The title clearance did not come as a surprise for many in the district. Business administrator Richard Matthews told the Paterson Times in early August he was confident the district was the true owner of the old School 5.
Municipal tax records listed the school board as the owner of the property.
“I’m very pleased with this result, but I must say that I’m not all that surprised,” added Robert Murray, general counsel for Paterson Public Schools. “Barry and his team did an outstanding job that included some great research. I know that the superintendent will do everything she can to make the most of this tremendous opportunity on behalf of Paterson’s students.”
The proceeds from the sale will be plugged into the 2019-20 school year budget.
“This is money that can be directed into our classrooms to benefit our students,” said school board president Oshin Castillo.
The district could have gotten more for the building. Prominent developer Charles Florio said he was willing to pay much more. He said the district ignored his inquires to purchase the building.
Florio said the mayor and the school board decided not to return his lawyer’s phone calls about the issue.
Mayor Andre Sayegh has said the city won’t quietly give up its claim on the property. He said he plans to discuss the deed situation with the superintendent in a meeting this week. His administration will have to conduct a legal review, he said. The city isn’t contemplating a court battle over the deed.
The building was appraised at $1.7 million.
Updated 11:25 a.m. on Sept. 27, 2018.