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‘Think tank’ says shuttered school could be rented, repurposed

Photo of E.W. Bower Elementary School in Lindenhurst

Photo of E.W. Bower Elementary School in Lindenhurst on the afternoon of October 18, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A think tank tasked with coming up with a solution for a shuttered elementary school in Lindenhurst is largely recommending renting or re-purposing the building.

The think tank results were announced last week at a board of education meeting that at times grew heated between those with differing opinions on what should be done with Edward W. Bower Elementary School on Montauk Highway. Last month the Lindenhurst school district formed the think tank to examine costs and make recommendations to the board regarding the future of the school.

Bower was closed in 2011 due to the building’s age and declining enrollment. Portions of the building have been rented to several groups, but the building continues to operate in the red. Minus rent, this year the district expects to pay $62,235 for Bower maintenance and $198,599 in debt service, according to district spokeswoman Alison DeMaria.

The board voted to sell the property in 2015, but in an October 2016 referendum, voters rejected a $5.5 million offer by a developer to build senior condos on the site.

The think tank was made up of three subcommittees: “sale,” “repurpose” and “rental.” In the report, the seven repurpose members, while not all in agreement, recommended that Bower be used for other student programs, such as the district’s growing Secondary Academy, which operates out of the administration building.

The three rental members recommended that the district take the building off the for-sale market, as it may be discouraging prospective tenants. The committee also asked that members be allowed to help in the search for tenants.

The sale committee’s four members couldn’t come to an agreed recommendation. Part of the discussion involved repairs needed should the school remain open. An architect’s report in 2015 cited $9.3 million in needed repairs, including a new roof. An engineer’s inspection earlier this month found that the roof is in good condition. But it’s unclear if the school’s aging boilers will need to be replaced soon.

Although members were to use district-provided facts to support their recommendations, it is not clear how some conclusions were reached. For instance, the repurposing committee’s special education and out of district costs varied from figures provided to Newsday by the district. DeMaria said officials are unsure how the committee members interpreted the data provided to them.

Board president Donna Hochman said the think tank feedback will help the board make a decision, though it “comes down to the same three choices we had before.”

“No one is going to be completely happy with our decision,” she said.

Hochman said she expects further discussion and a vote at the next community forum on March 15.

Edward W. Bower Elementary School timeline

1953: Bower opens

2011: Bower, the smallest and one of the oldest schools in the district, closes

2013: Board of education votes 6-3 to put Bower on the market for $6.5 million

February 2014: District receives offers ranging from $2.8 million to $5.2 million to develop the site for senior and market rental units

November 2014: Development offers withdrawn and board hires new Realtor

June 2015 District receives offers from $5.5 million to $6 million for multifamily rentals, senior condos and a day care facility

October 2015: District receives another offer, for $5 million, for a storage facility

October 2015: Board votes 6-3 to sell the school, but cannot reach a majority vote on any developer

December 2015: Board votes 7-2 to sell the property to Engel Burman Group for $5.5 million for senior condos

October 2016: In a public referendum, voters reject sale to Engel Burman, 1,004 to 606

January 2017: Board votes 8-1 to create a think tank to help with a decision on Bower

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