By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The Tonawanda City School Board anonymously approved the sale of Central School to David Capretto for $220,000 during the body’s special meeting Tuesday night.
The sale is subject to a voter referendum to be held on May 21, along with the school board elections and budget vote.
Capretto is the president of Forbes Capretto, a custom home building company, and he plans to turn the school into an apartment building, according to district officials.
“Anything that can go onto our tax rolls is a plus for the community,” Superintendent James Newton said. “This is a very reputable builder and we believe it is a win win for everyone. It will definitely help us out financially.”
Further details about the apartments were not released, but there will be no low-income criteria for residency in the building. Newton said Capretto hopes to capitalize on the building’s proximity to the river and city’s downtown area.
Under the contract, the district will rent out space in the building, including the climate-controlled room used to store files, for $3,500 per year. The district has been paying much more than that fee to keep the structure up and running.
“We are currently paying $1,000 per month to maintain the building ... which includes heat and electric,” board President Jackie Smilinich said.
Board member Robert Starr said he was worried about renting out the building’s space and having to build a climate-controlled room in the future. In response, Smilinich suggested building a climate-controlled room in the middle and high school complex as part of the capital project— as the district has to decide how to spend an extra $1 million as part of the project.
Although the board’s vote was anonymous, there was debate over the sale — as the city council had previously appointed a committee to review the possibility of turning the building into a community center.
“The city is the only one that doesn’t have a community building in the area, and I think that’s a crime, “ Gayle Syposs said at Tuesday’s meeting.
But according to the board, city officials said twice that they were not interested in the property.
“They didn’t know the building was in such great shape, and received misinformation about it,” Syposs said. “But I totally understand the board’s position and am disgusted that the city did not do their due diligence ... that’s not any of your faults.”
Syposs said her committee will continue to meet and put together a concrete proposal for the building until the referendum vote.
And although the notion of a community building was appealing to the board, members said they couldn’t refuse the offer without the city’s concrete proposal — which it has yet to give.
“If we refuse this, and they say no again, then who knows if we could get another offer with this storage rate?” board member Sharon Stuart asked.
The board began discussing the sale of the building in October, and listed the school at the beginning of January for $325,000. The 34,720-square-foot building hasn’t been used as a full-time educational facility for more than 10 years.
Last spring, the district sold another former school, Highland elementary, to S. Spoth, LLC in an auction for substantially less than its original listing price of $440,000. People Inc. planned to use the building for apartments, but the plans have yet to be approved and finalized, and the large school still sits vacant.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley