Lindenhurst voters on Tuesday roundly rejected a proposition to replace a shuttered elementary school with condos for seniors.
The proposal to build 98 condos for those age 55 and older on the site of the Edward W. Bower Elementary School on Montauk Highway was defeated by a vote of 1,004 to 606. Bower was closed in 2011 due to the building’s age and declining enrollment. The building was then rented to several groups but was never fully leased, and maintenance costs continually increased so the board decided to put the property on the market.
The board went through two real estate organizations and several offers for the property before voting 7-2 in December to sell the property to The Engel Burman Group of Garden City, pending the public referendum.
Engel Burman had offered $5.5 million to the district to develop the property. After debt service was retired, the district stood to pocket nearly $4.3 million, as well as between $350,000 and $460,000 in tax revenue each year. The building this year is expected to cost the district nearly $206,000 to maintain.
While the measure was defeated at each of the five polling locations, the voter split differed by geography. Those voting at Harding Avenue Elementary, the only polling location south of Montauk Highway, rejected the redevelopment nearly 3 to 1. But in the northernmost part of the district, at William Rall Elementary, the No votes outnumbered by the Yes votes by only 12 votes.
A flurry of last minute information posted to social media also played a role, residents said.
“There’s been a lot of information put out in the last few days,” said Dawn Logullo after she said she cast a No vote. “I just feel that without the proper information, how can we vote to sell it?”
But some residents claim there was a lot of incomplete as well as misinformation put out as well, including a Monday afternoon robocall from the Civil Service Employees Association, known as the CSEA, urging residents to vote no and stating that the district would be losing hundreds of thousands in state building aid if sold.
While this is true, local civic leader Denis Garbo said, the message failed to mention the millions of dollars the district would collect from the sale.
“We thought it was suspicious that this information came out in the eleventh hour when it was too late to respond or correct,” Garbo said.
Theresa Hehir, who voted for the condos, said she ignored the last-minute information from residents and relied on the facts presented by the district in a special newsletter that went out last week. “People were trying to skew other people’s vote,” she said. “But to continue to pay money for a pretty much empty school is useless.”
The board of education must now decide how to proceed. It can put the matter up again for a vote, remarket the property to other potential developers or entirely revisit their decision to sell the building.
“The public has spoken, and now we have to discuss what we want to do,” said board president Donna Hochman, who was one of the seven board members who voted in December to sell to Engel Burman.
Edward Murphy Jr., was one of the two board members who voted against the sale in that same meeting, citing concerns about enrollment dips being temporary.
“I appreciate our community’s support for the future of education in Lindenhurst,” he said after the referendum.