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Meeting regarding potential sale/lease of district properties now set for October 5


by Chrissy Ruggeri and Joanne Kountourakis | Fri, Sep 29 2023

 Attendees at the September 21 board of education meeting just prior to it being adjourned. The meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday, October 5 at Northport High School at 7pm.

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Updated Sunday, October 1, 8:15am: The following link has been provided by the school district so that residents may view the meeting via Zoom:

A note to our readers: November will mark one year since the Northport-East Northport School District hired Newmark Realty to provide brokerage services for the sale or lease of three district properties. To date, the Northport Journal has published ten articles related to this process, not counting those events that led us here, including the district reorganization and long-range financial planning committee’s work. We are confident that the same number of articles have been published by our fellow local newspaper, The Observer

We encourage residents to stay up-to-date on information put out by the district and trusted media outlets, and to remain knowledge seekers – simply reading headlines and blurbs or reacting to a social media post is not enough. We believe that our community will be better served when residents do their own research, engage in meaningful discussion, and take action based on facts related to the fate of these properties. 

The Northport-East Northport Board of Education released a statement yesterday evening regarding last week’s adjourned meeting on the potential sale or lease of three district properties, Bellerose Avenue Elementary School, Dickinson Avenue Elementary School and the William J. Brosnan building. The statement includes an apology for a meeting venue that was “less than adequate” on September 21 and assures the public that corrective actions are being taken to provide all community members with an opportunity to share their feedback “in a respectful and safe environment.” The meeting was rescheduled for Thursday, October 5.

Also included in the statement is a reiteration of information related to the district’s process as it explores options for the three properties. “We want to emphasize that no district building/property may be sold without the public’s approval via a referendum and our objective for the meeting was to receive input from the community. We regret that there was confusion regarding the intent of the meeting.” 

Reminders for the newly scheduled meeting will be sent out next week to parents, staff, and residents signed up through the district’s community notification system, district officials told the Journal. Information is currently posted on the district website, with more to come on social media. Meeting notices will also be posted in local papers. The district has confirmed with the Journal that the offers included in the presentation represent all formal offers the board has received to date. 

In order to provide our readers with relevant information related to this process and what to expect moving forward, we have put together a timeline of events, with links to additional articles and information on this topic: 

June 2019: The Northport-East Northport Board of Education (BOE) implemented the “Future Study,” a comprehensive planning process to identify possible options for the district’s Pre-K through 12 instructional programs. This planning process, which included commissioning the SES Study Team, LLC to prepare a 148-page study, presented several reorganization scenarios for the district to consider. 

April 2021: At the April 29 BOE meeting, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the Future Study’s Adapted Scenario A, a plan that closed Bellerose Avenue and Dickinson Avenue elementary schools. According to the School Closure and Reorganization FAQ sheet, the school closures would provide an approximate $10 million in one-time cost savings due to capital work avoidance and a net yearly savings of approximately $6.9 million (though that figure has changed and been challenged since the report). The FAQ sheet also indicates the burden that declining enrollment and decreased tax revenue from the LIPA settlement has put on the district, and states that the two closed elementary schools would be mothballed until rented, sold or razed. Currently, both school buildings have or are being used for non-instructional purposes.

November 2022: At the November 17 BOE meeting, the 19-member Long Range Financial Planning Committee reported its findings after meeting fifteen times over a 10-month period.

The committee looked at several factors that play a role in the district’s financial planning, including district revenue and expenditures, and presented three primary challenges: the impact of the LIPA settlement and the end of the $2 million settlement payments in 2027-2028; significant capital expenditures that will be required to maintain facilities at current levels over the next several years, including $91 million in identified projects, such as new roofs and HVACs; and excess building capacity, including Bellerose and Dickinson elementary schools and the Brosnan building.

Among the five recommendations made by the committee, one was to formally engage a real estate firm as soon as possible to analyze revenue or cash-generating options associated with excess building capacity. The committee recommended that the district consider the sale or lease of the three buildings and allocate any proceeds to the district’s capital spending budget.

At that same meeting, the BOE passed a resolution in public to hire Newmark Realty to provide broker services for the district. Newmark, one of three real estate brokers to respond to the district's advertised RFP for services, was tasked with assessing and marketing the district’s three available properties for sale or lease. (Cushman & Wakefield and Jones Lang LaSalle were the other bidders.) 

The hiring of Newmark, with a brief description of the process, was announced in the Winter 2023 Our Schools newsletter, which is mailed to every house in the district. 

“Each of the three properties is being reviewed to determine the potential opportunities for their use. While possible, it is highly unlikely the buildings will be repurposed in their current condition as school buildings. More likely, the properties would be rezoned in the event of a sale,” the newsletter stated. 

February 2023: Local news coverage of the properties for sale/lease amped up. LIBN posted an article stating that the district properties “present an opportunity for redevelopment as senior housing, assisted living facilities, or mixed uses, according to a Newmark statement.” In a Connect CRE article, available for viewing on the Newmark Long Island webpage, Newmark Senior Managing Director Scott Berfas stated, “We expect robust interest from developers for these sites, and we will work with community input to ensure that a wide variety of uses are considered.” 

Newmark confirmed with the Journal for a February 17 article that there would be no asking price for a lease or a sale of any of the three properties, and that the Newmark team would solicit bids for evaluation by the district. Newmark officials said they would implement a variety of marketing mediums, including email, social media, phone calls and other methods “to ensure maximum exposure for the district’s benefit.” 

“With regard to both sale and lease options for all three buildings, the district is considering maximizing the financial benefit, meeting the operational needs of the district and most importantly, understanding the community impact,” the district stated in the February article. “While all three properties are available for lease or sale, that does not necessarily mean that the district WILL sell or lease all of the available properties. The board will deliberate in public to determine what is in the best interest of both the district and our residents, including which and how many of the properties should ultimately be leased or put to a voter referendum for sale…. There will also be opportunities for residents to voice their preferences for the properties and any concerns during Board of Education meetings prior to any vote regarding a sale.”

July 2023: A pivot in strategy was made during the July 14 board of education meeting, and mentioned in a recap sent to the Northport-East Northport community following the meeting. In the recap, Superintendent Banzer stated, “On the advice of both legal counsel and our real estate agent, we are not able to share all offers publicly prior to entering into contract as this could jeopardize those offers and weaken our negotiating power with the separate potential purchasers.” Banzer explained that the school board was reviewing all offers in executive session “with a focus on those offers which are most financially beneficial, as well as which would best suit our community.” It should be noted that when asked just yesterday, district officials confirmed a change in the plan: “After further consideration, the board and administration wanted the community to be aware of all formal offers. The offers currently listed on the website and included in the presentation represent ALL of the formal offers the board has received. There are no additional formal offers beyond what has been shared,” a district representative said. 

August 2023: In an August 1 Northport Journal article, written after an extensive conversation with both Superintendent Banzer and Board of Education President Larry Licopoli, it was reiterated that the sale of any district property is subject to voter approval via a referendum, at which the community can approve or deny the sale of any building. Banzer said that during a fall BOE meeting, the district would provide an initial presentation to residents, which would include the “categories” of interest for each listing. The goal of the presentation, according to Banzer, was to make sure the public was informed about the types of offers on the table, while not harming the bargaining power of the district. He also stated that community input would be welcomed after the presentation, during a Q&A period, and the board would take the public’s feedback and decide on what, if any, offers would move forward.

September 2023: It was announced that the regularly scheduled BOE meeting on September 21 would include a presentation on proposals for the sale or lease of the three district buildings by Banzer and Newmark. “The board will also be soliciting feedback from the community regarding these proposals and the potential sale/lease of each building,” read an announcement posted on the district website. 

On September 15, an overview of offers for all three properties was made public on the district website. Twelve offers (including one option for a lease) are included in total; some initial offers were revised and labeled “2nd offers” in the offers document. Additionally, the Village of Northport hired a brokerage firm for the potential acquisition of the Brosnan building, although no official offer has been made public. 

The September 21 BOE meeting was recessed and then adjourned just a few minutes into the presentation, when members of the audience began calling out and shouting at the board, both about the information being shared by Superintendent Banzer and the overflow of people in attendance, many of whom were ushered into the building’s gymnasium to watch the meeting on a screen. According to a Northport Village police report obtained by the Journal, two Northport Village police officers responded to the Brosnan building at the request of security personnel. The police were called to aid district security, who “needed assistance because the residents at the meeting were becoming enraged.” The caller believed that police presence could deter any possible issues, according to the report. 

“For everyone’s safety, for the students and folks at home who might be watching this, I believe it is in everyone’s best interests for safety reasons that we adjourn this meeting,” BOE President Larry Licopoli said at the meeting, adding that a rescheduled presentation would be held at Northport High School. “Hopefully we can get through this in a manner that I think most of us want to.”

What’s next?
The next BOE meeting will take place at 7pm at Northport High School and will include a presentation of proposals for each of the three district properties, after which the board will have the opportunity to ask questions and deliberate. The recap and deliberation will be at the beginning of the agenda and as brief as possible, the district said, so that the meeting can quickly proceed into the public comment portion of the evening.  

“We want to hear our community’s ideas and thoughts about the future use of our available buildings,” reads the BOE statement released on Thursday evening. 

An action to move forward with any and all contracts would be made at a future date via a public vote by the board of education; from there, the developer, business or agency would be responsible for presenting plans to the community, with specific details. A final decision would be left to district voters, made via the voter referendum. Should the school district decide to lease one or all of the properties, a public referendum would not be necessary.

If any of the buildings are sold for an intended use different from how the properties are currently zoned, the Town of Huntington would have to approve the project, which would happen after the public referendum. In that case, the developer or agency would be responsible for presenting its plan to the town; any change to zoning would require town board approval.