Devens School debate precedes vote to buy school for $10M

Devens School taken by eminent domain

By Josh Resnek

The Devens School on Church Street was taken by eminent domain by a unanimous vote of the city council at Monday evening’s meeting at city hall.

The duel measure passed, 10-0.

This included the eminent domain approval and the subsequent approval of the $9.9 million from ARPA funds to pay for the taking.

The city awarded the owner of the property $9.9 million in the eminent domain taking – an amount consistent with several appraisals done of the property now used as a teaching facility for special needs students.

The owner of the property, the prominent Chelsea developer Anthony Cassano, can either accept the $9.9 million or appeal the taking in Superior Court.

The taking is being funded with ARPA funding given to the city by the federal government.

The ten year lease the city had with Cassano was expiring. The owner was seeking a renewal of the lease but at a higher rental cost, according to the city’s financial chief, Eric Demas.

Demas said the new lease the owner was looking for “did not make sense.”

Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani said the Devens School has the space to provide services for special needs students.

She estimated the Deven’s capacity at 300 students but was hesitant to offer a guarantee about that number.

Without the Devens School, the cost for educating and providing assistance to 53 special needs students could be as much as $6-$7 million a year if the city had nowhere to place them.

Tahiliani told the council per student tuition costs without the Devens School availability would be “astronomical” with special ed kids’ tuition in the $140,000 a year area and busing costs of $100 a day per student at minimum. She said placing 53 special ed students in high needs programs is likely untenable.

Councilor Al Lattanzi asked if not buying the Devens might be construed as a mistake in years to come.

“In years to come, not using Pope John will be the mistake,” Tahiliani replied.

Pope John was very much a part of the discussion Monday night.

Pope John could provide as many as 1,000 student seats to that number now packed into Everett’s overcrowded public school system.

A series of public speakers decried the city’s failure to use the former Pope John High School as a middle school to reduce overcrowding.

Those sentiments were repeated by several councilors, Councilor at Large Stephanie Smith primary among them.

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