February 8, 2012 —
NARROWSBURG, NY — With the heating system now shut down and the pipes drained, the school itself has never been colder. But interest in the publicly owned building is heating up.
At a meeting of the Sullivan West Board of Education on February 2, Kevin Vertrees, founder of the nonprofit organization called the Solution Project, said he represented a group of investors who are interested in purchasing the Narrowsburg School.
Prompted by an editorial in The River Reporter that challenged the community to come up with good ideas regarding the use of the empty building, Vertrees and his wife, Andrea Reynosa, and other members of the community have been holding meetings and brain-storming sessions about it.
He told the board that community conversations and a survey with about 100 responses from members of the community indicated that “most people would like it to become a community space.” But would they be willing to pay for it? There were varied answers. “Some said yes; others said we have community space, what we need is jobs.”
He said, “There is clearly a desire for a multi-use facility, with perhaps an educational component and a business focus to attract new jobs to the area.”
The board seemed receptive to the presentation, but superintendent Dr. Ken Hilton told him, “Apparently there are other people who think it’s a great building, too.”
Hilton said ealier in the week he had received a call from a local realtor who had a client who was also interested in purchasing the building. The school district’s attorney advised him that he had a fiduciary responsibility to the community to pursue that offer as well, if it is legitimate.
In mid-January, a group of possible investors from China toured the school and expressed interest in using it as an agricultural school for students from around the world.
At the meeting, Hilton said a contract would be awarded to a realtor on March 1 to market the school, but contacts made before that time might not be subject to the 2.5% commission that will go to the realtor if and when the building is sold.
Narrowsburg resident Star Hesse asked if there would be any consideration given to selling the school to the purchaser in a way that would be best for the community.
Hilton said the district does not have that kind of flexibility and in most circumstances must sell to the highest bidder, if the proposed use is legal. He added, however, one exception would be if a lower bidder were going to return the building to the tax rolls, and the higher bidder were going to operate a nonprofit organization that would not pay taxes, then the district could accept the lower offer.
This time around, the school will not be sold through an auction with sealed bids opened on a specific day as was the case with last year’s sale, which ultimately fell through. Instead, the school will consider offers as they are presented to the district.
No formal offers have yet been presented to the board.