At Wednesday’s regular meeting, the Board of Education discussed a request by Mayor Anne Thane to consider the possibility of selling a parcel of land that is currently owned by the Greater Amsterdam School District to the City of Amsterdam.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Perillo opened the discussion by stating that the board had previously received a notice from Thane requesting a meeting regarding economic development. Notice of the meeting held March 10 was sent one week prior and was attended by the superintendent and two board members, Thane, and Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis.
Perillo related that the Mayor’s purpose in calling for the meeting was to express her interest in obtaining a portion of the lot that the Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Communication is on for economic development and to explore whether the board would be open to transferring ownership of the land in some capacity.
The school district owns 82 acres of land at the site, located between Edson Street and Widow Susan Road. According to Perillo, towards the middle of the parcel there is a deep ravine and power lines, and it is this portion that the mayor is interested in acquiring. After reviewing maps of the site at the meeting, Perillo said that it looked to be about 40 acres that the mayor was interested in.
After relaying this information to the board as a whole, he stated that there was no formal request from the mayor at this time, but that he wanted to know the feelings of the board so that he could let the mayor know if they would be open to discussing the matter further.
Board member Peter Prichard asked if there had been any other interest in the land within the past ten years. Superintendent Perillo said that the only interest had been from the Little Giants youth football league a few years ago. At the time, the football league was interested in pursuing a portion of the property that has an old baseball diamond on it.
Perillo noted that a current lack of activity was not indicative of the future, mentioning that the school board purchased land in the 1920s that went undeveloped until R.J. McNulty Academy for International Studies and Literacy Magnet School was built in 1963. He said, “So, just because we’re not doing anything with it now, doesn’t mean that we won’t do anything with it in the future.”
Board members Nellie Bush and Robert Vennett expressed their concerns over possible industrial development taking place in close proximity to the school, noting that it could result in safety issues and that it could prove distracting to students.
Bush, who was unaware of the meeting as she was out-of-town and unable to receive email, said, “I don’t think, in my opinion, that, as a board member, that I would want to enter into any kind of agreement without knowing what that economic development project would be.”
Perillo responded, saying “I didn’t get the sense that they knew either; they just said economic development. They didn’t give us any ideas of any industries. I think that was something I actually talked to [board member John Bottisti] about. I said, ‘Okay, so, if we give them the land or we sell them the land, what if they never do anything with it? 40 acres is a lot of land to a school district‘.”
Prichard summed up the opinion of the board, saying, “I think it’s not prudent for the district to be making any decisions to move forward, to make any agreements. There’s still a conversation, and there’s still a realm of possibility, but it should be narrowed to a point where there is something coming together.”
Bush added, “I think at this time of year, our energies and our focus should be on the budget,” requesting that the subject be tabled until after the district’s budget vote in May. The board members also agreed that, should the conversation be resumed, Mayor Thane should attend a regular board meeting, so that all board members could be in attendance.
When reached for comment, Mayor Thane said that she had been reviewing maps of the City of Amsterdam and discussing possible areas for economic development with DeCusatis, the economic development department, and other staff.
She said, “There are several properties, but there’s not a lot of property that is not developed yet, so we’re just trying to take an assessment of where we will be able to expand either commercially or residentially and then opening up conversation.”
According to the mayor, the land owned by the school district “would be potentially a place to expand the industrial park and increase our tax base, which would be important as well for both municipalities and the county. The property has been toweled for years and we would really like to have the opportunity to develop it.”
Thane said that it is typical to begin discussions with another administrative body or government entity to gauge interest first. Then, if the discussion is able to move forward, to discuss negotiating points or budgetary concerns in both public and executive sessions.
Mayor Thane said that her purpose in requesting the meeting was simply to present an idea to the school board, to assess whether there was interest in the option, and to determine if it was something that she should pursue. She said, “We’re just always looking for ways to positively impact our tax base. So, we want to bring taxes down in any way we can, and so now we’re looking for ways to grow, which we always do. But maybe this is a situation that could work.”