Bayonne has exited negotiations to purchase the former Marist High School, which closed in 2020 due to declining enrollment and financial strain.
The Bayonne City Council voted to approve a resolution cancelling the previously adopted ordinance that bonded $100,000 as a down payment on the property. The council also voted to approve a resolution “ratifying and reaffirming” an assignment of the Purchase and Sale Agreement between the city and the Marist Brothers and terminating the city’s interest in purchasing the property.
City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski brought up concerns with the wording of the resolution. At first, the resolution read that it was “authorizing the mayor to execute any and all documents necessary to effectuate an assignment and assumption of the Purchase and Sale Agreement.” Ashe-Nadrowski took issue with the word authorize, since the city had already assigned the agreement to purchase the property to a redeveloper.
A done deal
“So we’ve assigned the contract already, so this is asking for authorization for something that we’ve already done,” Ashe-Nadrowski said.
Law Director Jay Coffey confirmed that Mayor James Davis signed the contract last week “in good faith” that the council would approve the resolution at the meeting: “We’ve assigned the contract to Peninsula Court, LLC. It has been signed.”
In response, Ashe-Nadrowski said: “So we’re not authorizing anything technically, we are ratifying and confirming.” She took issue with the fact that Mayor Davis authorized the contract, considering that is usually in the council’s wheelhouse.
“We always go through what the authorization of the body of government can do,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “We only do certain things and land acquisition and contract is us.”
According to Coffey, there was a time frame that had to be met: “It was a time sensitive thing. It was signed in good faith. And this is the resolution that authorizes it.”
‘No council involvement’
Coffey said that the contract was signed last Thursday, to which Ashe-Nadrowski said the council had only received the resolution an hour before the meeting.
“My problem is that I wasn’t, and I don’t think any council people here were involved in this,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “Quite frankly, it was a decision being strictly made by the Mayor without any consultation to this council at all. The Mayor made this decision to get out of Marist and no longer pursue it as a school. I don’t want the public pointing the finger at me. I didn’t have a say in it and I have a problem with that. I just want it to reflect in the resolution that we already did the action.”
Coffey said the city assigned the contract after a decision from the board: “The Board of Education made a determination that they weren’t going to pursue this contract. They did not want it. We were acting as a conduit for the board.”
Ashe-Nadrowski then probed who the contract was being transferred to and how that was determined. In response, Coffey said the city had found a replacement.
“Our redevelopment counsel found a ready, willing, and able person to step in and negotiate with Marist, that was probably a couple of months ago,” Coffey said. “That principal died. So our redevelopment counsel found a second entity to come forward to take our place. They negotiated directly with Marist.”
No more plans for a school?
Ashe-Nadrowski questioned if there was still going to be a school there: “It was going to be a private developer doing a private partnership and building us a school. My understanding is now, there is not going to be a school on this property.”
Coffey confirmed to Ashe-Nadrowski that first entity wanted to construct a school there. However, the second entity does not necessarily plan to do that. He reiterated that ultimately, it was the Board of Education’s decision: “It was the school system that was driving this. They don’t want to pursue this anymore. It was cost prohibitive for them to try and do the school.”
What was supposed to be a $16 million fix turned out to be in excess of a $50 million fix, according to Coffey. And since the board dropped the project, so did the city: “We’re done. We don’t have any involvement.”
Ashe-Nadrowski took issue with the fact that the city is no longer interested in turning Marist into another school for the heavily crowded school district: “They agreed to sell it to the city and now we are no longer interested in it, we now transferred it to another developer.”
Chief Financial Officer Donna Mauer echoed Coffey stating that this was the Board of Education’s project, adding that the city has already been wired the $100,000: “The board came in to ask us to help with the financing. It was never the city’s project.”
Changing the wording
Ashe-Nadrowski reiterated her concern with the timeline of the assignment of the contract, with it being signed before council authorized it: “My problem is, I don’t want to see us end up in long litigation like what happened down at the base. We were locked there for 20 years because we transferred property kind of improperly without everyone having their opportunity.” The root of the issue for her was overall the lack of council involvement and the wording of the resolution: “We weren’t informed. So why should we sit here and say we’re authorizing this.”
Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa said: “I’m not against that the Mayor would do something like this, but I just think we should have been notified more than an hour before the meeting. That’s the part I don’t like about this.”
“There’s two issues here: the question of the wording and the question of whether we want to see another school built in the city,” First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll said, suggesting a representative from the board be present at the next council meeting to answer questions.
To address the issue with the wording, Coffey amended the resolution to read that it would “ratify and reaffirm” Davis’s actions. The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution.
Previously, the Bayonne Planning Board designated the property as a non-condemnation area-in-need-of-redevelopment. However, no redevelopment plan has been drawn up for the site. The future of the former Marist High School remains unclear.
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