The Stoneham Board of Selectmen approved putting two North School-related warrant articles on the May 7 Special Town Meeting Ballot Tuesday night.
While neither vote has taken place, by the board approving Article 1 they acknowledged that it implies approval that the town will accept the North School property from the Stoneham School Committee and a bid submitted by Michael Collins, a Stoneham resident and owner of Lexington-based Collins Development, Inc., to renovate the existing school.
The selectmen also approved Article 2, which would be a zoning change to allow for residential development at the site located at 195 Collincote St.
When the town put out its request for proposals (RFPs) for the North School property—divided into three lots—only Collins came forth with bids for all three parcels.
Shortly before the town announced the Town Election results on April 3, Collins pitched his plan to the North School Selection Committee. He submitted a combined bid of $700,000, which includes:
- $240,000 for the North School
- $175,000 for "Lot A," a 12,600-square-foot parcel
- $142,500 for "Lot B," a 10,140-square-foot parcel
- $142,500 for "Lot C," a 12,250-sqaure-foot parcel
Collins' plan would involved adaptively reusing the school building and coverting it into 12 condominium units. He said the units would be one or two-bedroom units, with no three-bedroom units, that would be 700 and 1,250 square feet, respectively.
The units would be geared toward "'empty nester' buyers without school age children," wrote Collins in the RFP.
Collins, who has nearly 30 years of building experience, said he has done mostly high-end building projects in recent years, including:
- Arlington-based Russell Place (40 condominium units): $18 million in total sales.
- Arlington-based Heritage Square (19 condominium units): $12 million.
- Wakefield-based Gates of Greenwood (24 condominium units): $12 million
- Winchester-based Coventry Estates (Road and 12 lots): $3.5 million
Collins said he also is currently contracted to purchase Wakefield-based Franklin School to restore and renovate the building into 20 condominium units, adding that the project is in th design and permitting phases.
While Town Administrator David Ragucci appreciated the bid and proposal, he said the bid was "insufficient" and well below the $2 million he was hoping to receive for all three parcels. And, he reiterated that stance Tuesday and asked the board not to approve the bid.
However, Ragucci's position was met with much opposition during Collins' presentation, as the majority of the abutters attending the session favored the plan and wanted the town to move forward with it.
Abutters stated that they don't want to lose out on the opportunity for the town to generate revenue from the project. They also were supportive of Collins' intentions to renovate the historic building rather than raze it to build a large development to maximize the property while creating construction problems in the neighborhood.
As far as Collins' bid was concerned, Stoneham resident Larry Russo, who purchased the East School from the town, said it was a fair bid and that if he weren't immersed in the project that he would have made an offer to purchase the North School.
Upping the Ante
After hearing Ragucci's disappointment with the initial bid, Mark Vaughan, attorney for the developer, said Collins has agreed to increase his bid on Lot B and Lot C by $10,000 each to $152,500 apiece. However, Lot A's bid of $175,000 would be unchanged, he added.
"I recognize this bid is less than the town wanted before in RFP process," Vaughan said. "For this particular project we are talking about here…the price is a fair and appropriate one."
To avoid potential legal problems in the future, the selectmen decided not to formally vote to approve the land transfer and Collins' bid because the North School items were omitted from Tuesday's agenda.
Selectman Bob Sweeney expressed his displeasure with the items being left off the agenda, especially given the fact that the Hearing Room was packed with interested abutters to the school.
The board will vote on the items at their May 1 session.