Hoping to push the stalled $120 million project to build two new schools, officials plan Tuesday to ask city councilors to agree to hold a special meeting soon to go over potential sites for the buildings.
“They’re trying to expedite the process and get some decisions on the locations,” Mayor Art Ward said Monday.
The two school building committees, charged with overseeing construction of new 900-student schools in Forestville and in the West End, are asking the City Council to hold a joint session with them to go behind closed doors to discuss “negotiations for land.”
It isn’t clear where things stand in terms of negotiations for either of the sites currently on the table: the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street and a closed sand pit off Barlow Street.
Spurring action may be a worry that unless the pace picks up, the city’s June 2007 request for state funding of about 70 percent of the project might be thrown out.
Ward said he understands there is a two-year limit for the city to find acceptable locations in order for its initial funding application to remain valid.
School officials have expressed frustration at the lax pace of the site selection process, which narrowed in on two locations months ago.
Since then, however, there has been little public indication of any activity, though at least some behind-the-scenes negotiations have taken place, according to several officials.
What isn’t clear, though, is whether the city and the landowners are in the same ballpark in terms of the value of the sites eyed.
Both the West Bristol and the Forestville school building committees asked the council to schedule a joint session with them soon.
They also asked that the council agree to meet as the Real Estate Committee – normally a three-person subcommittee of the council chaired by former Mayor Frank Nicastro – because the site selection law gives the real estate panel a key role in approving any deal.
Two members of the real estate panel, Nicastro and Councilor Mike Rimcoski, voted against the school sites recommended by the committees and are considered less likely to favor moving ahead with the project at all.
The motion sought by the two school panels asks that the joint meetings be held in executive session, which would make the proceedings secret, a move that is legal because it involves land negotiations.
There is no legal requirement, however, that the meetings must be held in secret. That is a choice that city leaders are allowed to make.
How much the public will learn about the status of the projects remains unknown.
The city and the Board of Education plan to construct two kindergarten to eighth grade schools that would each house 900 students. When they are ready, four existing schools would be closed: Memorial Boulevard Middle School and Bingham, Greene-Hills and O’Connell elementary schools.
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