August 14, 2013

Board Members Are Not “Owners” of VRS, They Are Asset Managers Doing a Poor Job

To the Editor:

We would like to address recent comments by the School Board. First, we would like to point out that the School Board holds its assets on behalf of the taxpayers — us. The names of the School Board members are NOT on the deed and when they leave office, they don’t sell or return their shares, they simply walk away. They are really asset managers. And as asset managers they have been doing a really poor job of stewarding the assets of historic Valley Road School (VRS) held in their care on behalf of the taxpayers.

There are numerous nonprofit organizations around the country that have successfully taken over old, unused schools and converted them into centers for nonprofit organizations. It is doubtful that any of them could meet all the “criteria” of the School Board. It makes you wonder whether these criteria are intended to protect the taxpayers or just fend off any nonprofit group that might try to show that the VRS can be adaptively reused.

Additionally, the School Board claims that the “likely construction cost for even a basic renovation of the building is at least $10.8 million.” VRS-ARC/VRSCCI made an OPRA request for the back-up justifying this number and was told that the School Board received no additional documentation from the structural engineer who made this claim — “You have what the district has.” VRS-ARC/VRSCCI’s cost estimator, Spiegel Consultants, has released a construction cost estimate, with detailed backup, of $3.0 million, with a total cost of $3.9 million.

The School Board also claims that VRS-ARC/VRSCCI failed to provide “even minimally acceptable plans for the required zoning changes.” Not true, VRS-ARC/VRSCCI submitted a proposed zoning amendment to them, and got no constructive response. Finally, we submitted the amendment to the mayor for consideration and the School Board strenuously objected.

Now, regarding the assets for which the School Board is in their words “the legal owner.” The property was sold to the “inhabitants of Princeton Township” in 1918 for $2,000. The “inhabitants” bought the property and were listed on the deed as the “legal owners.” In 2002, when the School Board wanted to proceed to renovate the “newer” portion of the building, they ran into a problem. They were advised that they didn’t own the building, didn’t even have a long-term lease. So naturally they couldn’t proceed with their project. Doesn’t that sound familiar? So they went to what was at that time Princeton Township, because they were advised that the municipality theoretically represented the inhabitants who bought the building in 1918, and therefore the town was believed to be the legal owner of the building. The Township agreed to sell the building to the School District for $1.

The School Board worries that allowing a nonprofit group to save the building would be breaching its fiduciary responsibilities to the community. Our preference would be for the School Board to demonstrate its sense of fiduciary responsibility by putting its effort into patching the roof and maintaining an interior environment to avoid damage by rain or frozen pipes.

Richard Woodbridge,

Chair, Valley Road School-Adaptive Reuse Committee