2013-10-24 / Front Page

New Plans for Old Schools

By Tom Shevlin

With the new Pell School now online, city staff have begun to consider what to do with Newport’s suite of former elementary school buildings.

On Wednesday, City Manager Jane Howington sought permission from council members to exercise a provision governing surplus properties that allows the city to engage with a private contractor to place the buildings on the open market.

That provision, which is found in City Ordinance Section 2.116, generally holds that surplus properties be sold at auction, except in cases where a waiver is granted by the council.

In those instances, waivers may only be granted if a public auction is deemed to not be in the best interest of the city or for the common good.

To date, the school department has returned three public buildings to the city as “excess properties”: the former Coggeshall, Cranston- Calvert, and Underwood schools.

According to Howington, “use of a real estate broker for disposition of the schools may better serve the community’s best interest and common good than a simple auction.”

She also notes, however, that simply by engaging with a broker would not “negate the ability to employ the auction process” if the council so decides.

The city has had mixed results when it comes to disposing of former school buildings.

In the Fifth Ward, the former Carey School sold at auction relatively quickly – spending just over two years vacant before a private real estate development firm secured permission to convert the former elementary school into a luxury condominium project.

The former Lenthal School on Spring Street also has been converted into luxury condos, with a majority of the units sold and occupied.

The Sheffield School, on the other hand, has sat vacant for more than five years, and only recently after several failed attempts to find a suitable use for the building has the city begun moving forward with a plan to redevelop the property into a high-tech incubator space.

The fates of the Coggeshall, Cranston-Calvert, and Underwood schools will ultimately depend on what the market holds and city decides.

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