Developer who wants to convert school to senior housing offers deal

A former school, located at 220 Washington Ave. A former school, located at 220 Washington Ave. in Deer Park, is shown on March 1, 2014. A developer offered on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, to build a small community center for the day care and youth activities that are still at the school. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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The developer who wants to build senior housing on the site of a former school building in Deer Park offered a deal minutes before a Tuesday night school board meeting to also construct a community center on half an acre there, school officials said.

The offer -- intended to win over critics who say selling the Washington Avenue School property would deprive their neighborhood of a resource that houses day care and youth programs -- drew little enthusiasm from a sometimes angry crowd of 100 in the gym of the John F. Kennedy Intermediate School.

"That's not a lot of room," said Carl Brown, 43, whose two children attend programs at the site. "Where are they going to put a playground and a community center that fits in as many kids as now?"

Developer Engel Burman Group approached the district earlier this year with an offer for the 220 Washington Ave. property of $5 million to $6.6 million to build as many as 244 housing units for seniors. The purchase price would depend on how many units the Town of Babylon approves.

School officials have said that sale proceeds and property tax revenue would go toward reducing the district's tax levy. The building needs extensive repairs, they say, costs about $150,000 a year to maintain and takes in around $77,000 in rent from private programs such as the Little Scholars Child Center.

The plan to sell the property goes before Deer Park voters in a May 20 referendum.

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While this part of Deer Park has about 1,713 children of school age, the second-highest amount of the hamlet's seven census tracts, it has no operating schools and one town park on the eastern border of the hamlet. Median household income in the area is $66,732, the lowest in the hamlet, according to census figures.

In public meetings concerning the proposed sale, race has emerged as an issue. Census figures show this part of Deer Park has its largest concentration of African-Americans.

"You need to be ethical to the population you serve, whether it's a black community or a white community," resident William Holmes said at Tuesday night's meeting.

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School officials strongly objected to any suggestion that the Washington Avenue building was targeted for closure because of the race or socioeconomic status of residents in the neighborhood.

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