Brushing aside concerns from two veteran politicians that the move is designed to sidestep a committee that could pose an obstacle to the $120 million school project, city councilors agreed Tuesday to hold a special meeting soon to review potential sites for two new buildings.
The goal is to make it possible for everyone involved to gather so that each of the decision-makers will learn all of the necessary information to support or reject particular locations for the proposed 900-student schools.
“We don’t have much time,” said city Councilor Cliff Block.
The council unanimously agreed to hold a joint session with the West Bristol and Forestville school building committee behind closed doors to discuss “negotiations for land.”But councilors said they have many questions that don’t involve secret negotiations so the session will almost certainly include a wide-ranging public discussion about the project as well.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, who heads the Real Estate Committee, said it is “very clear to me” that the request to have the council meet as a whole instead of relying on the three-person real estate panel was made because supporters of the project feared his committee “will squash this” project.
“I’m not foolish,” Nicastro said, adding that there “is no reason to usurp the Real Estate Committee’s authority” to make a recommendation to the council.
Another veteran councilor, Republican Mike Rimcoski, said he’s also sure the plan was meant to sidestep the regular real estate panel. He said that the Board of Education is circumventing normal procedures.
But Mayor Art Ward said that he thinks the move merely eliminates an unnecessary step in the decision-making process.
Having everyone in the room, said city Councilor Ken Cockayne, ensures “everyone would be in the loop.”
The school project, which the council and Board of Finance gave tentative backing to last year, aims to build two kindergarten to eighth grade schools that would replace four aging buildings.
Two sites are under consideration for the schools: the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a closed sand pit off Barlow Street.
Block said that multiple appraisals have been done to determine their value, but there has been no public indication of the cost to purchase the land.
Ward said the appraisal process is a major reason for the lack of progress on the project this year.
“It does take time and it does stagnate the process,” the mayor said.
Ward said that he wants the council to take up the issue soon so that it won’t have to scramble next spring to make a decision before a state-imposed deadline.
“This is the next step,” Block said.
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