The Jerusalem Avenue school building will no longer be in the hands of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, after voters countywide overwhelmingly supported Nassau BOCES’ purchase of the building for $12 million last week.
Central District Superintendent John DeTommaso said on Monday, however, that organizations that have used the building for events have no need to worry.
The sale was approved with 2,225 yes and 254 no votes. The result will be ratified at the BOCES board meeting on Feb. 26.
Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District voters agreed to sell the building to BOCES in a Dec. 5, 2017, special election, by a vote of 759-278.
“We would like to thank everyone who participated in this vote,” said Dr. Robert Dillon, Nassau BOCES district superintendent. “Our purchase of the Jerusalem Avenue School will provide long-term savings for our local school districts.”
Nassau BOCES has leased the school from the Bellmore-Merrick district since 1998,with BOCES’ 56 component districts sharing the rental bill. Owning the building will eliminate that expense of $1.4 million in the 2018-19 school year and in the future, BOCES officials said.
According to DeTommaso, the deal is also financially wise for the district.
In the lead-up to the district’s 2017 vote, BOCES officials made it clear that if they was unable to purchase the building, they would likely walk away from the rental arrangement, leaving the Bellmore-Merrick district with a revenue hole and vacant building.
Selling the building will also save the district money in the long-term, DeTommaso said, because it will no longer be the district’s responsibility to maintain the aging building.
For example, every time there is a boiler issue at Jerusalem Avenue, “basically it’s a $50,000 job for the district,” DeTommaso said, adding that the district has been maintaining the building since 1987, “without putting any real money into it.”
The building is “the same age as some of our other buildings, but we haven’t installed new systems, so you can imagine what the maintenance is,” he added.
The purchase price will be put into a reserve fund by the Central District and used to lower taxes in the future.
“As superintendent of schools, I believe that the board’s decision to sell the building to BOCES is in the district and community’s best interest,” DeTommaso said in a district-wide letter.
DeTommaso also told the Herald that over the years, community members have raised questions about the future of the building, but considerations about the football field and track on the property — which will continue to be owned by the district — pointed to a BOCES sale making the most sense.
“It’s an educational institution,” DeTommaso said. Some people would say, ‘Sell it to a developer for whatever,’ but then the fields would disappear, so we think this is a better option. BOCES has been there for 19 years. They’ve established themselves there, and we think they’re certainly a part of the community.”
DeTommaso added on Monday that the Nassau County Strawberry Festival, which is sponsored annually by the Bellmore Lions and Kiwanis clubs, will continue on the property.
“We did all our homework before that,” he said. “That’s built right into the contract of sale — the Strawberry Festival. We don’t anticipate we would have any issues regarding that.”
After the countywide vote is ratified at the end of the month, BOCES is expected to take control of the Jerusalem Avenue building on July 1, after their regular lease is up.