Mayor: If schools want properties near McCourt, they should buy them

Mayor: If schools want properties near McCourt, they should buy them

CUMBERLAND – If school officials wish to keep a collection of six properties near McCourt Middle School from being sold off, they should buy them, says Mayor Bill Murray.

But School Committee Chairman Raymond Salvatore says the schools don’t own real estate, nor are they in the business of purchasing properties.

“All our properties are essentially town properties,” he said.

On June 14, the school board voted against approving the sale of the six properties by the town to other entities, saying some should be retained for use by students and others should be held onto for potential future use by the schools.

Murray had asked the committee to consider the impact of the sale of certain properties around McCourt.

The mayor says his administration is still reviewing the matter as he waits on the Town Council to say what should ultimately happen to the lots in question.

Salvatore is correct that school properties are technically the town’s, says Murray, and the council will ultimately have to weigh in on the issue.

Jay Masterson, principal at McCourt, attended the June 14 meeting to say his “biggest concern” was keeping four properties along Clairmont Street for use by students. Several years ago, representatives for Up with People volunteered to help develop cross-country trails through the properties, he said, a project supported by town workers, and the properties the town is looking to sell are “directly in the path of the back of the cross-country trail.”

The schools can’t move the trail back because doing so would violate Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management regulations, he said.

In a letter responding to Assistant Solicitor Chris Alger’s request to consider the impact of selling the properties, Salvatore said the school board placed the matter on the June 14 agenda for “discussion and/or vote on whether to approve the sale of such parcels by the town of Cumberland.”

Salvatore noted that Masterson advised the committee that McCourt uses all four parcels on Clairmont Street for running trails and general use by students.

“Selling this land would have a significant, negative impact on the quality of student life at the school,” he wrote.

He noted that Masterson also advised the committee that if a home is built on a plot abutting the school, on Highland Avenue, it would likely block the view of the school from the road, “creating a significant security concern.”

“It is worth noting that Dr. Masterson plays a key role on the school department’s school safety team,” said Salvatore.

The sale of that lot would be particularly problematic because it directly abuts the access road to and from the school, he said.

Committee members initially indicated on June 14 that they would be OK with selling a second lot behind McCourt, with Paul DiModica saying it’s a small lot that serves little or no purpose, but other members then said it would be nice to at least maintain the potential to convert it into another access point in the future. Salvatore wrote that selling that property would limit a potential future egress from the school, “which may be an important part of a future safety plan.”

Masterson had not recommended keeping that lot, saying other than some “sentimental value for people who attended the school in the 1980s and 1990s, due to the stairs on the property, it doesn’t hold much value.

“We don’t dispute that sale,” he said.

But the committee voted to retain the lot.

Murray announced in February that he was looking to sell 12 town lots in the neighborhood of McCourt, six on Crowell Street, the four on Clairmont, and the two on Highland Avenue, all to generate revenue to the town.

The committee voted not to approve the sale of the two on Highland or the four on Clairmont “because of the significant concerns expressed by Principal Masterson, all of which resonated with the committee,” said Salvatore. The committee took no action on the Crowell Street lots

At that June 14 meeting, committee member Steve Hess commended the administration for reaching out about the properties. Hess had been a proponent of the town keeping all but the Crowell Street properties.

Salvatore said last week that the schools “haven’t purchased any land that I know of” during his years in Cumberland. As an additional point, the Cumberland School Department is not a revenue-generating entity, he said, and can’t simply use money from a fund balance, as the mayor has done with other purchases, to buy up properties.

“We’re not in the real estate market,” he said. “(We’re looking out for the) best interest of the schools, not selling property to make money.”

Comments

Is there an agenda here to undermine the schools?

The McCourt Middle School has built a very successful sports program at the school and that includes the track team. To want to sell the very land that they train on is just wrong. Where are they going to run? On the sidewalks?

Also Dr. Masterson is against selling the land next to the front entrance so the school is visible from the street for safety concerns.

The land that Mayor Murray is proposing the school system needs to buy was recently used when the school had to be evacuated when the guy set off fireworks at the back of the school. The Cumberland Police blocked off Highland Avenue during the incident because all the school children were congregated at the school entrance.

Mayor Murray knows he cannot sell the land without town council approval and I am sure that is not going to happen.

Your getting publicity for the wrong reason here.

Paul DiModica
Cumberland School Committee

Isn't this sort of like saying: "if the Recreation Department wants Diamond Hill, they should purchase it?"

Have to agree that the schools do not but land. Mayor Murray's proposal here is ridiculous. It clearly has been stated that the school children are using these properties.

Look at any of the GIS Maps on the tax assessor's web page and you will see that the Town of Cumberland and not the Cumberland School Department is listed as the owner of the land that those schools sit on.

Why hasn't the athletic director, Matt Campanelli chiming in here about the schools using these properties? Could it be he is the mayor's son-in law?

Wait a minute here. Didn't Mayor Murray want to get rid of the ball field behind Garvin for the police station?

Go away, just go away.

I'm disgusted by the Mayor's stance on this issue. I planned on voting for him but this is a selfish act. The land around McCourt should be integrated into the sports field and the town should sell the land to the school dept. for $1. End of story. Get it done Mr. Mayor. Having that land added leaves room for future expansion, a new school etc. Think ahead a bit please.

The Mayor posted a comment about this article on Facebook this morning. See below:

To be clear, I was only talking about the one lot that the McCourt Principal had no problem with selling because we have an offer on it. It's unused and has no purpose. The rest of the lots we won't sell.

Ethan Storey should be ashamed of himself for misquoting the mayor. But then again the mayor is not saying he was!

The heck with the land. I'd be more worried that someone making education decisions for the town doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're "

This is a case of Salvatore using his position on the School Committee to try and campaign against the Mayor. The Mayor’s office went to the School Committee for input before this was sent before the Town Council. Salvatore has been public with his disdain for the Mayor and plants this with the Breeze. Shameful what is happening in Cumberland and that this type of stuff is being used as campaign fodder by the Mayor’s opponent.

Mr. Salvatore didn't "plant" anything. I asked him for his response.

You should then understand the biases that exist with people you interview and not feed into the political spin you receive with responses such as this one. The Mayor went to the School Committee for their input, this is something the Town Council votes on....you should look at all sides of a matter.

This was the timeline: the Mayor went to the Town Council first (February 21st), then his administration reached out to the School Committee (May 7th). Back on February 21st the Murray administration solicited the Town Council's opinion about the potential sale of town-owned lots, and presented several lots, including those abutting and near McCourt Middle School as potential sales opportunities to generate revenue for the town. As Asst. Solicitor Alger said at the time "This came about, the Mayor had been, we've been batting some ideas around the administration, how to raise revenue, to keep tax rates low, to help the town, help fund schools, help fund all these other pressing budget issues". He then went on to discuss the various properties in further detail.

After the administration gave its presentation regarding the various lots Councillor Scott Schmitt responded, in part, "The only thing I'd like you to look at is, the two that are on Highland do they have any utility value to the school? Because once they're sold, they're sold." He continued, "The two that just concern me are the two near the McCourt Middle School. I'm not familiar with them. I don't know if they have any value to the school. It's not even what their value is today but what they may be able to do with them in the future."

Mayor Murray later responded in that meeting, "We originally said if we get into this we will talk to the schools immediately. You're absolutely right, I don't know whether there's a value there to them. They might not want to spend the money to buy these."

Asst. Solicitor Alger then reached out to the School Committee for input on the potential sale of those lots on May 7th. The School Committee rendered their opinion regarding the potential sale of various lots during our June 14th meeting.

Link to February 21, 2018 Town Council meeting (@1h, 37m): http://vid.opengovideo.com/playvideo.asp?sFileName=http://video.clerkshq...

Link to the June 14, 2018 School Committee Meeting (@54m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bbyJBpjckw&t=53m53s

Steve Hess
Cumberland School Committee - District 5

In my opinion the mayor was looking at every option he had to generate revenue so he could keep taxes low and find the extra money to feed the every growing appetite of the school department . Cant print the stuff. Give him a break will ya.

But, he suggested the schools buy the land. That doesn't make sense.