A developer has submitted a lowball offer to purchase the two school district owned buildings in downtown Paterson, according to information reviewed by the Paterson Times.
Developer Cesar Pina, who made the controversial purchase of the old School 5 last year, offered $1.5 million for both the old Board of Education headquarters on Church Street and a district-owned church building on Smith Street.
Both buildings are assessed at $7.56 million, according to municipal tax records. The city’s tax assessor valued the old Board of Education at $5.6 million and the church building at $1.9 million.
Municipal officials use a private company to conduct assessments every year to ensure all properties are assessed at market rate.
District appraisal information for both buildings were not available.
Pina’s offer was made through the district’s broker Linton Gaines in June. The broker relayed the information to superintendent Eileen Shafer and business administrator Richard Matthews. But the offer was never communicated to the full school board stoking a controversy late last month.
“Are there any offers on these buildings?” asked school board member Emanuel Capers at the Aug. 21, 2019 board meeting.
“No,” answered school board president Oshin Castillo. One bid came in for Smith Street site when the district first advertised to sell the buildings, she said.
“You’re talking about a bid from a year or so ago?” asked Capers.
“About a year, right, Mr. Matthews?” remarked Castillo.
“Yup,” replied Matthews.
Capers continued to question the board’s leadership.
“To answer your question, currently there are no bids or offers,” added school board vice president Nakima Redmon.
Except there was an offer submitted two months earlier.
There were fiscal committee meetings over the summer where the offer would have been discussed. Both the president and the vice president sit on the committee, according to Capers.
Neither Castillo nor Redmon responded to calls for comment for this story.
“This is the first I’m hearing of it,” said Jonathan Hodges, longest serving member of the school board, when told of the offer late last month. “I’m going to have to speak to the superintendent.”
Hodges said he intends to find out why the full board was not told of the offer. He does not see the lowball offer as serious.
Castillo at the board meeting said the committee at a summer meeting discussed the possibility of renovating both downtown Paterson buildings to get out of the expensive lease of the 90 Delaware Avenue central office building.
Capers accused the board leadership and the district of withholding information from the full Board of Education.
Shafer did not interject while her business administrator, the president, and vice president provided faulty information to the board members.
“Failure to competitively bid the sale of district-owned property would put the district at risk of losing state aid,” said Paul Brubaker, spokesman for the Paterson Public Schools, citing a state law that outlines the manner in which a school district can dispose of its properties. “Finally, the idea that Paterson Public School District administrators are withholding information from the Board of Education is false.”
Brubaker acknowledged the district received an “unsolicited expression of interest.” He said the “document that expressed that interest is not an official offer, according to state law.”
The developer submitted the offer for the two downtown Paterson buildings in the same manner as he did for the old School 5. Pina offered to buy the old School 5 for $1 million. Later the district reduced the price by $100,000. At the time district officials said the reduction covered clean out of the building.
Some critics said the district had given the developer a “sweetheart” deal for the property due to his political connections. Developer Charles Florio had said he was willing to offer more than $1 million for the old School 5. His effort to purchase the building was blocked, he said. Pina later gave $30,000 to mayor Andre Sayegh’s controversial One Paterson group to repair ballfields in the city.