Breaking a months-long logjam, city councilors agreed Monday to press ahead with the purchase of property to house two new schools.
“I feel good right now,” said city Councilor Cliff Block. “This is great for the children and a great statement for the future.”
The decision, slated to be made final tonight, clears the way for a $120 million project to build two 900-student schools that would house kindergarten through eighth grade children. Four older schools would be shuttered.
Councilors unanimously endorsed the purchase of the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street for $2.1 million.
But they split 4-3 on whether to move ahead on using eminent domain to take the Scalia sand pit off Barlow Street. Appraisers said it’s worth $1.5 million but its owner wants $3.5 million for it, according to a memorandum from School Superintendent Philip Streifer to city councilors.
Technically, the council met Monday as an enlarged Real Estate Committee and recommended to itself to adopt the same purchase proposals at a meeting slated to begin at 7 p.m. tonight.
Mayor Art Ward said that delaying the final vote gives people a chance to speak at the council meeting before it’s too late to influence the outcome.
But nobody expects the outcome to change tonight.
“It’s obvious,” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro, who joined Ward and Councilor Mike Rimcoski in opposition to the Scalia site.
Ward added that the lineup “hasn’t changed in months” and probably won’t again.
Board of Education member Tom O’Brien, who spearheaded the project, said that he doesn’t mind winning by a single vote. He said it only takes a one vote margin to come out on top.
Streifer took a cautious view.
“I’ll wait to see what the council does,” Streifer said.
Councilors spent more than 100 minutes behind closed doors in secret session with the Forestville and West Bristol school building committees before emerging Monday to cast their votes.
The executive session was legal, said Dale Clift, the city attorney, because it focused on the negotiations for land.
Clift said that even though the prices had been mentioned in The Bristol Press on Monday – a leak that infuriated some insiders – the value of a “full, fair and frank discussion” in secret and hearing the details of the deals made it reasonable to meet outside of public view on the controversial issue.
There was no opportunity for councilors or the public to challenge the basic outline of the Board of Education plan to close Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older elementary schools in favor of two K-8 schools.
City Councilor Craig Minor said that decision had already been made.
“It’s a leap of faith,” he told one disgruntled resident who challenged him to prove K-8 is a better system.
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