By an almost two to one margin, Lawrence School District residents overwhelmingly rejected the referendum to sell the Number Six School to Simone Development Companies to create a multi-specialty medical practice.
The vote on March 20 was 3,655 to 1,969 against the proposal to sell the closed elementary school to Simone for $12.5 million. Simone planned to lease the 6.7-acre site that includes an 80,170-square foot building to Mt. Sinai Hospital for a 60-doctor, 30-speciality medical center. That was expected to employe more than 100 people.
"It’s a victory for the whole community and all together it was a good campaign," said Lawrence Board of Education Trustee Uri Kaufman, who, despite being on the board's real estate committee that selected the Simone bid, opposed the proposed sale.
Residents, especially those in the immediate area of the school property at 523 Church Ave. in Woodmere, fiercely opposed the plan. Community members organized an ad hoc organization called the Five Towns Community Coalition. Their concerns focused on the potential for an increase in the traffic volume in an already heavily trafficked area and the loss of open space as the property’s ball fields and other existing recreational space, except for the playground, was planned to be paved over for approximately 450 parking spaces.
Woodmere resident and Coalition member Josh Justic said he was not only pleased with the vote result, but with how the community responded after information was presented to them. "We worked hard and it was a good result, he said. "We focused on facts, not individuals." Justic said he would like to see the CC5T continue to play a watchdog role in the community.
Attorney Ben Weinstock, who represented Simone through the bidding process and referendum campaign issued this statement.
“Despite the outcome of the referendum regarding the Number Six School property, Simone Development and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai remain committed to providing coordinated outpatient care to the residents of the Five Towns community. We will look for an alternative site within the Five Towns," he said.
"We are encouraged by the community’s positive response to the concept of coordinated care and have listened carefully to concerns raised by residents living near the school about potential traffic and loss of open space. We thank supporters for their votes in favor of the School Six site for medical offices,” Weinstock added.