With renovations of Lawrence High School on the horizon, the Lawrence Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution on Nov. 18 declaring the school district’s intention to sell the former Number Five School and issue a request for proposals to find an appraiser to pinpoint the building’s market value.
Earlier this year, the district was awarded $14.387 million of Federal Emergency Management Agency money for Hurricane Sandy damage. The money is from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation projects after a major disaster. The program aims to reduce the loss of life and property that typically results from natural disasters.
“We’re exploring options and, we’re now very close to commencing the FEMA renovation of the high school and that demands finances in excess of $10 million,” said Board President Murray Forman, adding that the money for any work must be spent before it is reimbursed and it is “inevitable that certain items that need to be done will not be covered by FEMA. There will probably be a shortfall.”
To sell the school at 305 Cedarhurst Ave. in Cedarhurst that the district closed in June of 2015, a public referendum must be held as mandated by state law. The 97,000-square-foot building was built in 1929 and is on a little more than 2.5 acres.
Since May of 2015, the district leases the building to the Shulamith School for Girls. Through 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 the payment was $500,000 per year. From 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 it was $515,000 and for this school year it is $575,000. The current lease ends on Aug. 21 of next year. For the past five school years, Shulamith has used the Number Five School for its all-girls yeshiva, including a high school that graduated its first class in June.
Forman said that the school building is the best candidate to be sold as property in Cedarhurst would more than likely realize a higher price in the village compared to the Lawrence Primary School at the Number Two School and the Number Four School that has the Early Childhood Center, which are both in the hamlet of Inwood. Lawrence Primary School is being used to capacity, he added, and the No. 4 building is more than 100 years old.
If the Number Five School was to be sold, it would be the fourth school sold by the district. In 1980, the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway purchased the Number Three School on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst for $1.1 million, which is now HAFTR High School. Developer David Neuberg bought the Number One School that was on Central Avenue in Lawrence in 2007 for $29.1 million. The upscale condominium complex that was built generated an additional $2 million for the district based on the number of apartments constructed.
In 2014, the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach purchased the Number Six School on Church Street in Woodmere for $8.5 million, along with $2.7 million that will be held as a guarantee that Lawrence will realize at least $566,000 in annual savings on what the district spent on transportation and special education for HALB students, when HALB was in Long Beach.
Ari Cohen, president of Shulamith’s board, did not respond for comment. Forman said that Shulamith was not contacted about Lawrence’s intentions.
Eminent domain hearing
The district will hold a public hearing at Lawrence High School, 2 Reilly Road in Cedarhurst, on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. to consider the eminent domain acquisition of 287 Mott Ave. in Inwood to expand the Number Two School campus.