standing tower street school

Tower Street School and Community Center in Westerly on Friday, January 4, 2019. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — The Town Council has granted the School Committee's request to extend access to the Tower Street School Community building until the end of August.

The School Committee initially indicated it would turn the building over to the town on July 1 but requested additional time to remove materials from the building. School officials are also looking for new quarters for programs, including the Transition Academy, a program for 18- to 22-year-olds with disabilities. The program, which is required by law, helps members become ready for the next phase of their lives after high school.

The Town Council is moving ahead with plans to sell the Tower Street property, and officials recently sought bids to have the building demolished. Town Manager J. Mark Rooney, on Monday, said the town received a range of bids, from about $400,000 to about $1 million, from contractors interested in the demolition job.

Plans are also underway for the town to hire an appraisal firm, and Rooney told the council he might also seek the services of a real estate broker. Two appraisals will be requested — the value of the property with the building and the value of the property with the building demolished.

Town Council Brian McCuin, a builder by trade, said the appraisal should help guide the decision on whether to demolish the building. He also questioned whether hiring a real estate broker would be necessary.

"It's a math problem ... whatever is best for the town residents," McCuin said.

Town Council President Christopher Duhamel said he he had "heard great interest in the property." Rooney confirmed that his office has heard from interested parties, including three who said they were interested in buying the property with the building.

Councilor Sharon Ahern said she had received communication from parties interested in buying the property and asked when the council would discuss parameters for sale of the property and how it would be used by potential buyers.

Councilor Suzanne Giorno suggested establishing a two-month period during which the council could seek proposals and offers for the property.

Town officials are also expected to soon make a decision on which sale offer to accept for the old town garage property off Beach Street.

Additionally, officials are expected to soon review an appraisal of 11 lots off of Terrapat Drive. The town acquired ownership interest in the lots through a tax sale in 2005. David Franzese, a resident who owns adjacent land, has been looking to purchase the 11 lots for about 10 years. His offer was $19,962 — the amount of property taxes owed when the town took the rights to the land plus the amount that the lots would have generated in taxes since that time.

Franzese's interest in the property prompted the council to seek appraisals. Town Attorney William Conley Jr. has told the council that under the current circumstances the town could sell the lots only for the back taxes owed on the land, plus interest and expenses. If the council decides it should seek fair market value, it would first have to clear the title to the lots by foreclosing the rights to redemption in Superior Court before it could offer the land for sale on the open market, Conley said.

McCuin has suggested going to court to clear the title and then selling the land, saying the town could sell the property for more than double what Franzese has offered.

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