The selected plan carried a coveted 90/10 state funding (The Massachusetts School Rebuilding Authority will be paying 90 cents on the dollar for the renovation). That plan called for taking multiple family dwellings on the east side of Sumner Terrace, a dead-end off of Sumner Ave that backs the school. A restaurant, Sam’s, is also included in the taking, ostensibly for new parking.
In order to qualify for the state funding, the city must put up its own (non-school) money to pay the 10% and obtain the land. The takings, relocation of tenants, and demolition is projected to cost $1.9 million of which $700K will cover the actual property purchase. The money needed to be transferred and eminent domain authorized which only the City Council can do under state law.
Councilors Tim Allen (Ward 7), Mike Fenton (Ward 2), Kateri Walsh (at-large) and others stood in support of the project. Assistant City Solicitor Kathleen Breck detailed the meticulous process by which the city ascertained the value of the property, worked with tenants, and assisted with relocation. Case closed, right? Ha!
Ward 6 City Councilor Amaad Rivera, whose district includes most of Forest Park and the middle school in particular, raised objections to a lack of meetings (or at least ones of which he was aware), despite ample evidence to the contrary. Rivera went on, rambling at times, about traffic and that charter schools were able to use public money to build schools in the neighborhood, although he did not say which ones. Rivera must have been referring to Horace Mann New Leadership and MLK Jr. charter schools, which occupy existing buildings formerly Holy Name School and Goodwill Industries respectively.
Things heated up after Walsh rose to support the renovation. She noted the long search and that the clock was running out not just on the time frame to get the money (the city will fail to qualify for the funding if the property is not seized by the end of February). She wondered how much longer kids can be reasonably educated absent this renovation and addition.
Rivera did not take this sitting down. He referred to the back row of the audience being filled (with two or three people) of a family that, in his description, would lose their livelihood. Left unexplained by Rivera, however, was why the city’s legal obligation to relocate the business would fall short. It is true that Sam’s has been in that location for some time and expanded in the last few years but there are empty storefronts nearby with parking.
Clearly aware that his council chamber theatrics could not stop the appropriation and vote for eminent domain, Rivera whipped out a rarely used council rule that requires an inquiry of the city comptroller whenever a financial order, such as this appropriation, is before the council. In an obstructionist move that would make Mitch McConnell proud, Rivera effectively ended debate on the issue pending the comptroller’s input. City Solicitor Ed Pikula and Breck advised the council that they would need to shoehorn in a special meeting between the 14th and the 18th to meet the state’s deadlines for the financing.
It got better…or worse. Walsh and Rivera, tore open a fresh wound from January when the latter refused to vote for the former, the only other Forest Park councilor, to be Vice-President. Walsh attempted to paint the issue as one that had gone through the process and this was the result that could gain consensus. Rivera would have none of that. He bristled at Walsh’s attempt to play to finality and a perceived implication she had made that Rivera did not understand that the owners of Sam’s would be compensated and relocated. After Rivera rattled off his grievances once more, the issue was tabled.
Next up, Councilor Jimmy Ferrera needled Library Director Molly Fogarty and City Solicitor Ed Pikula as to why non-circulating “rare books” had been sold. The books were technically owned by the Museum Association. Those that were valuable would have required special maintenance neither the city nor the association could provide.