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Voters to decide fate of Lawrence school Wednesday

Joshua Schein is part of a group fighting

Joshua Schein is part of a group fighting the sale of the vacant Number Six School in Woodmere. (March 19, 2013) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Voters in the Lawrence school district will decide Wednesday whether to allow the school district to sell the vacant Number Six School in Woodmere for $12.5 million to a health care group that plans to convert it into outpatient medical offices.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Atlantic Beach Village Hall, the Number Two School in Inwood, Lawrence Middle School and Lawrence High School.

The proposed sale to Simone Healthcare Development Group, which plans a seven-day-a-week operation, has sparked division.

Supporters say the property's addition to the tax rolls would mean an estimated $1 million payment a year -- 60 percent of which would go to the district. Opponents say the financial gain is minimal and the project does not fit the neighborhood.

School board president Asher Mansdorf Tuesday referred questions to the district's attorney, Al D'Agostino. The board voted in January to accept the Simone Healthcare Development Group bid.

Last month, Mansdorf said, "The sale of this building and the ability to return it to the tax rolls can't do anything but positively impact the bottom line."

D'Agostino said if the sale is approved, the developer must make significant improvements to the building. Simone Healthcare would pay full taxes on the land for 10 years following the sale, and the assessment on building improvements would increase 10 percent per year until the 10th year, when the improvements would be fully assessed, he said.

"This is no different from many other projects all over the county," he said.

A coalition of parents, homeowners and citizens called the Community Coalition of the Five Towns banded together to fight the sale.

"We . . . care about the future of our community and are concerned our children have safe places to play," said one of the organizers, Joshua Schein, who has 10 children. "We see this as ruining the residential neighborhood."

Schein and the group call the proposed use of the 6.67-acre property a "mega-medical center" and describe provisions of Simone Healthcare's deal with the district as a 10-year property tax abatement.

Some opponents have said the property would be better served by a yeshiva for girls, which had bid $10.5 million.

The 80,170-square-foot school building would house medical offices for about 60 doctors and would be leased by the Mount Sinai Medical Center's Icahn School of Medicine. A landscaped buffer bordering residential streets would be installed.

The board of education voted in March 2009 to close the school due to declining enrollment.

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