Bayonne officially authorizes negotiations to purchase Marist High School

The city council adopted an ordinance officially authorizing discussions with the Marist Brothers

The City of Bayonne is negotiating to potentially purchase Marist High School. The last Catholic high school in Bayonne recently announced it would close at the end of the school year this June, due to a declining student body and an operational deficit.

The City Council adopted an ordinance at the Jan. 15 meeting that officially authorized negotiations to proceed with the Marist Brothers regarding the purchase.

Law Director John Coffey said the city will explore entering a purchasing agreement to obtain the school. If acquired, the school would be re-purposed for the city’s educational needs.

The three properties that make up Marist High School are assessed at $8.9 million.

However, Coffey said the real value of that assessment would be in excess of $20 million after the application of the city’s equalization ratio. Equalization ratios are city-wide measurements that ensures the assessment of properties are close to market value.

“This administration is dedicated to the youth of this city, when it comes to our schools and anything else along those lines,” City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski said after the meeting.

Years in the making

According to Ashe-Nadrowski, the previous discussions to purchase Marist were not a secret because the city frequently offers to purchase schools when they close.

Trustee Denis Wilbeck of the Board of Education confirmed the dealings in an Jan. 15 interview with the Bayonne Community News before the council meeting. Wilbeck said the city had been in informal talks to buy the high school for nearly two years.

“People I spoke to that work in Marist High School, also Hudson Catholic High School, and New Jersey City University administrators and employees told me that Bayonne was going to buy the school,” Wilbeck said.

Wilbeck said before the meeting that the city was going to propose issuing bonds to pay for purchasing the school. This proposal was made more than a year ago.

Over the course of the past year and a half, Wilbeck said he met with president of Marist High School Organization Peter Kane. Wilbeck recalled that Mayor Jimmy Davis and city administrators had been keen on the idea of purchasing Marist High School.

“With the development that is going on in the Peninsula and throughout the city of Bayonne, the city is definitely bursting at the seams classroom-wise,” Wilbeck said. “It would be beneficial if they were to come up with another property, and of course Marist High School would be ideal.”

The public school district in Bayonne is overcrowded, according to Wilbeck. If the city purchased Marist, the building could be used to provide much-needed relief to schools across the city.

“It would relieve the overcrowding in the classrooms, whether they made it a middle school or an extension of the high school,” Wilbeck said. “With the development and the families that are presently moving into Bayonne, the schools are filled to capacity.”

Whether it the city leases or purchases the school, Wilbeck said the primary goal was for Bayonne to keep the property as a school because real estate in Bayonne is scarce.

“With property limited in Bayonne the way it is, it’s going to be like Hoboken, where you can only build up,” Wilbeck said. “Of course if they were to get ahold of Marist High School, it could be the answer to a number of their problems.”

Wilbeck said the school’s various amenities make it an ideal location to bring into the school district. Marist High School is home to a recreational field behind the school, a cafeteria, gymnasium, and adequate classrooms and meeting rooms that make the school worth purchasing.

“We looked at two to three buildings that we thought might enhance vocational programs throughout the city,” Wilbeck said, recalling other properties the city had considered. “That did not materialize, but hopefully Marist High School will.”

Deficits and declining enrollment

Marist students rally drivers to attend their car wash fundraiser on Sept. 23, 2019. Photo courtesy of Marist High School Twitter.

Marist High School has served the Bayonne community and surrounding areas for nearly 65 years.

According to a press release from school officials on Jan. 8, the closing is the result of an operating funds deficit that depleted the school’s reserves. Fewer and fewer students have enrolled in Marist High School over the past 10 years, with enrollment declining by more than half since 2008.

The Archdiocese of Newark does not own the school. Instead, the Marist Brothers and the provincial council run the school and had to make the decision. The closure was decided a week before the Jan. 8 announcement.

“We Marist Brothers have cherished the many years of excellent education given by dedicated Brothers and Lay Marists, and we are grateful to all the extraordinary efforts by the Marist School Board and Alumni to support Marist,” said the provincial leading the council, Brother McNamara. “But we, the Marist Brothers or Marist High School, simply do not have the funds to continue school operations after this academic year.”

The Marist Brothers and the school administration tried to prevent Marist from closing through a campaign they announced called “Save The School.” The 2017 campaign needed to raise $1.5 million to continue operations. However, the effort was unsuccessful, bringing in only $750,000.

“Despite our best efforts, we cannot continue to bridge the annual operational gap of over $1 million,” Marist President Peter Kane said. “The steady decline in enrollment, along with increasing expenses and the ongoing financial assistance we provide to our families has made this closure unavoidable.”

All classes, athletic team schedules, guidance, and extracurricular activities will continue through June.

“We are hopeful that all current students will stay through June,” Kane told the Bayonne Community News. “They have every reason to stay because we are going to continue to give them a world class education.”

School administration, faculty, coaches, and guidance counselors will stay on, focusing their efforts on assisting families to make the necessary arrangements for transfers to regional high schools.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.