The $120 million plan to build two new schools may be in trouble.
“Everything is up in the air because of the varying opinions of all the characters involved,” said Mayor Art Ward.
Ward said that a special City Council session Monday, where councilors will meet with members of the West Bristol and Forestville school building committees, will try “to come to a resolve as to the direction that can be taken” by the city.
Ward said his goal is “to put everything on the table and ultimately come to a decision, whether it be to move ahead with the new schools” or perhaps shift the focus to renovating older buildings instead.
The city tentatively gave its approval to a plan last year that called for closing Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools – O’Connell, Greene-Hills and Bingham – and replacing them with two new kindergarten to eighth grade schools.
One is slated for construction on the former Crowley auto dealership on Pine Street and the other may be built in a sand pit off Barlow Street.
Ward said that negotiations with both property owners are still underway. Other officials have said the city could take the land by eminent domain if necessary.
Ward said he hasn’t given up on switching the West Bristol school location to the former Roberts property on Chippens Hill that the city owns.
He said he might push for a special bill in the General Assembly that would let the city put a school there without the need to buy an equivalent amount of open space somewhere else.
“It would mean the dollar and cents we wouldn’t have to expend,” the mayor said.
“It’s worth exploring, especially if there’s a lot of controversy over the Scalia site,” Ward said.
The meeting Monday will begin in open session and at least some of the issues on the table would be discussed in public.
But Ward said that information about negotiations would be talked about behind closed doors, which is legal though required. However, the city typically doesn’t speak openly about potential land purchases.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer and several members of the Board of Education have pleaded for city leaders to make up their minds about whether the project is going to move ahead.
The state has agreed to cover almost 74 percent of the tab, but that deal will expire if the city doesn’t begin construction quickly enough. Officials can’t dither for long or it won’t be possible to meet the deadlines.
“The clock is ticking,” Ward said, and a firm decision is needed.
Monday’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers on the first floor at City Hall.
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