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Schools Eye a Creative Use for Allen School Building

Idea would benefit schools, city and residents, board members say

School officials say it's time to decide what to do with the , and tearing down the building is a likely choice.

But several school board members say they'd like to go one step further -- lease the acreage to the city for a park.

That way, city could maintain the grounds, residents would have more green space and the district would retain ownership in case it needs to build a new school a decade or two down the road.

"If we could work out something with the city . . . I think that would be a win-win situation for everyone," school board member Jennifer Sinisgalli said.

The plan is dependent on a few things -- for one, the city agreeing to take on a new park.  and open space at Allen School for $1 a year.

Also, the district would have to come up with an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 to raze the 50,000-square-foot building, which is currently used for storage. 

Treasurer Bill Parkinson said the demolition cost would wipe out the capital improvement budget, meaning roof repairs and bus purchases would have to wait another year.

But Business Manager Mark Donnelly said the district is now paying $50,000 a year for utilities at the building, which could be channeled into the demolition costs.

"We'll spend $250,000 over the next five years to maintain it," board member Carl Naso said. "We have to do the right thing."

Playground Woes

In the meantime, the playground at Allen must come down, school officials said, despite to maintain it.

A report from a playground inspector and the schools' insurance company says the existing equipment is unsafe and a liability to the district.

Donnelly said he wants the playground equipment dismantled by March.

School officials said it would cost at least $20,000 to repair the playground, and Donnelly is "not comfortable putting money into a playground where there is no active school."

Residents in the area said they may embark on a fundraising drive to purchase playground equipment there, but Donnelly said that could lead to thorny legal issues if the district decides to sell the land.

Other Options

Donnelly laid out five options for the Allen property, including

• Selling it 

• Tearing down the building and playground and leaving it vacant

• Tearing down the building and playground and leasing the land to the city for a park

• Leaving the property as it is and just maintaining it as well as possible

• Consolidating school administrative offices there.

Donnelly said the building is becoming a target for vandals and will deteriorate if left standing. The idea of moving administrative offices there is expensive, he said.

He strongly urged the board not to sell the property, saying the district probably wouldn't get a large amount for it and that if the need arises to build a new school, the site would be perfect, while new land would be expensive and hard to come by.

But board member Richard Micko asked that the district nonetheless explore an appraisal of the property rather than basing a decision on conjecture about real estate values and about a less-than-certain prediction about new school space 20 years from now.

Donnelly said he would take several steps -- approach city officials about the park idea, look for grant money to demolish the building and ask local real estate experts for help appraising the Allen property -- and report back.

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