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Lindenhurst school board votes to sell closed elementary school

The Edward W. Bower Elementary School on Montauk

The Edward W. Bower Elementary School on Montauk Highway was closed in June 2011. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Lindenhurst board of education Wednesday night voted to sell a shuttered elementary school but could not get a majority vote on any of the three potential developers.

The tense and sometimes emotional meeting brought out hundreds of residents and teachers eager to learn the fate of Edward W. Bower Elementary School, which was closed in 2011 due to the building's age and declining enrollment.

Board member Edward Murphy Jr. told the crowd a sale would be "shortsighted" due to increased population from several potential housing projects in the village. A recent Western Suffolk BOCES study found the district lost 17.6 percent of enrollment from 2004 to 2014 and anticipated another 10.7 percent loss by 2019.

Murphy rejected the findings, saying that "enrollment is cyclical and will eventually go up," and pointed to enrollment surges in neighboring Copiague and Amityville.

Board member Valerie McKenna noted that the school is "running in the red" and "looks dilapidated." Repairs and upgrades to the building would run close to $1 million, officials said.

Jacqueline Scrio, assistant superintendent for business and noninstructional personnel, said the school, which is partly rented out, cost $111,424 last year, excluding debt service and building aid.

"Right now we, as a district, are looking down the barrel at a very, very tumultuous time," board member Kevin Garbe said, referring to next year's budget. Scrio gave a "high estimate" of a 0.2 percent tax cap that she said is going to be "devastating to this district."

After more than an hour of comments, the board voted 6-3 to sell the property. A vote on allowing Engel Burman Group of Garden City to build 150 senior condominiums for $8.25 million failed, 2-7, and there weren't any yes votes on a proposal by Mill Creek Residential of Dallas for 150 multifamily rental units for $6 million. A vote to sell to Simply Self Storage, of Orlando, Florida, for $5 million failed by a 4-5 vote. Had the board picked a developer, the sale would have had to first be approved by the public in a referendum.

"This board has now successfully taken away the opportunity for the taxpaying public in this district to make their own decision as to what kind of building they want to go in place of Bower," civic leader Dave Woods said.

"It shouldn't have been this way," board president Donna Hochman said in an interview afterward. She said the storage proposal, which came two weeks ago, as well as the last-minute withdrawal by Blumenfeld Development Group of Syosset, which had offered $6 million to build a child care center, "changed the dynamic."

She said she thought the child care offer would have gotten a majority vote.Hochman said the next step will be to see if the developers return with new proposals or if Plainview real estate agents Greiner-Maltz find new offers.

In 2013, the board voted to put the property on the market and received five offers, most for senior housing, ranging from $2.8 million to $5.2 million. None of the proposals ever progressed, however, and the district hired Greiner-Maltz."There would be a straggler out there," Tom Attivissimo, chief executive of Greiner-Maltz said of potential new offers. "But there's only a handful of guys who can really pull this off, so I'm not too optimistic."


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