There’s a growing likelihood that the city will use eminent domain to buy at least one of the two proposed sites for new schools.
Relying on eminent domain to take the sites eyed for the new 900-student schools in Forestville and West Bristol may prove “the fairest and most appropriate way” for the city to take ownership of the land needed, said Tom O’Brien, the Board of Education spearheading the effort.
The city has two independent appraisals of each of the locations under consideration for the schools, officials said, and would have a hard time justifying paying more than the highest value assigned to either site, officials said.
But taking the property by eminent domain would allow the property owner to try to convince a judge that the price ought to be higher, O’Brien said.
The sites selected for the schools are the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a former sand pit owned by Scalia Construction off Barlow Street.
Only one of the four relevant appraisals has leaked. A secret appraisal done in January by Aldieri Associates of the 36 acres on Barlow Street pegs the land’s value at $1.5 million.
It isn’t clear why the other appraisals have not been released since the property owners have seen them, several officials said. Real estate negotiations can, by law, remain secret.
O’Brien said that the state is willing to pay 73.9 percent of the cost of the school project, including the purchase of property for the buildings.
However, it won’t pay anything at all for anything the city pays over and above the figure in the highest appraisal for either parcel, he said.
That means that if the city can’t convince a property owner to sell the land for the highest appraised figure, it only has three options: to pay more out of its own coffers, to use eminent domain or to pick another site.
If the city uses eminent domain, the state will pay 73.9 percent of whatever price a court eventually pegs as the land’s value, which could be substantially higher than any of the appraisals have figured.
As a result, at least one of the property owners – Scalia Construction – has indicated it would prefer to try to get more money in court than to accept the appraised value for its land, several officials said.
It isn’t clear if Crowley is content with the appraised figure or not.
City councilors and the two school building committees working on the project are slated to hold a joint session in the coming weeks.
Chris Wilson, a Board of Education member who sits on the West Bristol School Building Committee, said the goal is “to move the process forward” by sharing information.
The school panels are currently advertising for architects who can produce the detailed work that will be needed for construction on both sites.
The long-term plan calls for closing Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools – O’Connell, Greene-Hills and Bingham.Students in the other two middle schools, at Northeast and Chippens Hill, would not switch to a K-8 system when the new schools open, educators have said.
It appears the soonest that construction could begin on new schools would be the summer of 2010, which would put the earliest possible opening day for new schools in 2012.
The last time the city relied on eminent domain for a significant project was the seizure of the Bugryn family’s Middle Street land to create a new industrial park. It wound up taking years and a lengthy court case to resolve.
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