By Josh Resnek
School Department officials discussed with the city council the improbabilities about the future of the Devens School on Church Street.
It was sold some years back to an investor by the city council for $960,000. Now the city is believed to be considering buying it back at a cost of anywhere from $10-$15 million.
The School Department lease of the two story brick structure which serves as a school for some of the system’s most challenged students ends in 2023.
Presently, the lease is $580,000 a year.
According to school officials Dr. Brian Wallace and Superintendent Priya Tahiliani, the owner apparently has indicated he would like to sell the property back to the city or to develop it, or to renew the lease with the School Department, but very likely at a much higher monthly rent.
‘The owner wants to engage in a discussion about a new lease,” Tahiliani repeated to the council.
She said she did not know what kind of numbers the owner was suggesting for a renewal and hesitated from making assumptions before discussions had taken place.
Several councilors wondered if the city should buy the property back.
It was sold about twelve years ago for $960,000 – a sale engineered and approved by the city council.
Buying the property back could cost the city in the $10M TO $15M range Councilor Mike Marchese estimated.
“Why was it sold to begin with?” Councilor Stephanie Martins wanted to know.
“I’m for buying it back. We need the space but why was it sold?”
Martins question went unanswered.
Dr. Wallace told the council the facility is needed as there are no other spaces presently available to house students with extraordinary needs.
“If the lease is not renewed, there will be many students with no place to go,” said Wallace.
“I believe the owner is interested in dis- cussing the future,” said Tahiliani.
Marchese disputed the efficacy of buying the building when there are two unused school facilities that might be made avail- able – the old high school on Broadway and the former Pope John High School, now being prepared for development as affordable housing.
The city paid $10 million recently for the empty Pope John property.
The city is giving the building away in order for it to be developed as affordable housing.
“We need this building. We need additional space as well,” Tahiliani told the council of the Devens School.
Wallace said the higher level of care required after reopening following COVID has caused a great deal of disruption.
“Placements are full. There’s an urgency to place the kids in our enrollment in out of district settings which is very unlikely and very costly. It won’t happen,” said Wallace.
Councilor Stephanie Smith determined that the mayor needs to get on the move and to speak with the owner of the building on behalf of the city in order to determine what the possibilities are and what they will cost.
A measure asking the mayor to reach out to the owner of the Church Street building before the July 4 holiday was passed unanimously by the council.