CORRECTION: The meeting is Thursday, August 16 at 7 pm not Tuesday as was originally reported.
It is being held in council chambers, 313 Monmouth Street.
"The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings."
~President John F. Kennedy
By William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews Publisher/Editor
The Gloucester City Mayor and Council will vote on an ordinance on THURSDAY, August 16 that would allow the transfer of the Mary Ethel Costello (MEC) school building, 520 Cumberland Street, from the School District to the City of Gloucester City for a minimum sum. The property consists of 70,526 square feet or approximately 1.59 acres.
The MEC School was built in 1928 and was used first for a high school until 1961 when the new high school was built. Afterward, it was used for an elementary school. Millions were spent on upgrades to the school's gymnasium a few years ago. In September 2017 the MEC was vacated and replaced with the new $87 million elementary school built on Market Street.
The age of the building and the fact that it was in need of major repairs to bring it up to code were the reasons given for abandoning it according to city school officials.
What the mayor and council plan to do with the three-story building and the surrounding residential properties are unknown. One would think the taxpayers, the people who will be most affected by any plans for that property would be informed before any action was taken. But, as we mentioned, Mayor William James, and his City Council, don't feel the public has a "Right to Know" nor do they ever ask for public input. They despise critics and feel they are beyond reproach.
Rumors have been circulating about the plans for the property for some time. We asked former School Superintendent Joseph Rafferty once and he said he would like to give it to the City for a $1 so it could be used to house all city agencies. What would happen with the municipal building, the police administration building, the housing office trailer that is presently being used by those agencies is undecided. One rumor has the school being used for senior citizens housing although the city already has two properties being used for that purpose. Another rumor was a developer plans to build condos or townhouses on the site.
Plans for the new $87 million middle school were announced in 2002 or nearly 16 years ago. You would have thought a study of what to do with the MEC property would have started long before now. But this is Gloucester City. As we know from the past those in charge of our City have a poor track record when it comes to major land developments.
For example, the City received the title to the Coast Guard property in 1992. A restaurant and marina along with condos were supposed to be built there but that site has remained undeveloped despite spending nearly $1 million to repair the nearby pier. Because of poor planning by mayor and council Holt Logistics was given a 99 year lease without a cost for inflation clause. Holt uses the old Coast Guard building for its corporate office. The restaurant the City wanted to build was supposed to be placed on the top floor of the building.
We can't forget the Chatham Square boondoggle. In 2007-08 Mayor James and Council spent $4.7 million to purchase that property. Some reasons given by mayor and council for buying those apartments included a serious crime problem and the fact that the low-income tenants were a strain on the city schools. In 2010 the city announced that a Philly contractor, Orens Brothers was hired to develop it into upscale townhouses. Not one was sold despite the fact that the price for the townhomes was lowered several times. In 2017, the city sold the 100 apartments to Cyzner Properties. The agreed sale price was $1.5 million. Frank Robertson, the city's chief financial officer, said up until 2015 taxpayers had spent $7,184,450 on that wasteful project. For those counting that means taxpayers lost an estimated $6 million on the sale. Not included in that number is the money lost in tax ratables for the 10 years the City owned it.
Mayor James and Council also spent $5 million to purchase the Amspec-Harshaw Chemical property on Water Street in 2009 as part of their plans to develop the waterfront in what is known as South Port. Prior to James being elected the city announced a grandiose plan called the Gloucester City Vista. But after James was elected he said that plan couldn't be fulfilled because the area was unfit for housing; the ground was contaminated with dangerous chemicals. It would take a decade or more to remove the hazardous waste said James.
In 2010 the City announced the first organic compost plant in the United States was going to replace the Vista idea. Three years later in December 2013, James announced in a PR/Newswire press release that the Organic Diversion facility is the first of several planned projects in the 145 acres Southport Redevelopment Area (SRA). James said the SRA is being redeveloped by Southport Renewal, LLC with engineering support from T&M Associates and marketed by Prime Site Properties.
From the press release, "This is a great day and it could not come at a better time of year with the holidays approaching," said Mayor William James at the time. Having Organic Diversion start on the construction of its renewable energy facility in Gloucester City signals the beginning of a new era of development, public access to our waterfront, and tax ratables to help bring new revenue and business opportunities to our great City. A formal ribbon cutting will take place sometime early in the New Year," concluded the mayor.
AS SHOWN IN THE VIDEO THE South Port area remains undeveloped. The Harshaw/Amspec property on the left in this video was used for sometime by Public Service Gas and Electric as a storage area; but they have since moved away. The proposed organic compost plant announced in 2010 is nowhere to be found. It was to be constructed on the old Atlantic Richfield property in the distance behind the signs that are hanging on the fence. But all we found was weeds and debris. The raw video was filmed on Saturday, August 11, 2018 by CNBNewsnet. The signs below were posted in January 2014.
As far as we know the formal ribbon cutting that Mayor James mentioned in the 2013 news release never took place. On Saturday, August 11, 2018, CNBNews visited the area where the compost plant was to be built. All that was found was vacant land overgrown with weeds and trash.
Lastly, we can't forget the $400,000 to $500,000 of tax dollars spent on the Monmouth Street business district in 2012-13. Six years later many of those storefronts (see below) are still empty although some of the apartments above the stores have been rented.
Gloucester City residents have been waiting 38 years for their riverfront to be developed. In the 1980’s there was “Hollywood East” followed by the “King Street Corridor Development”, followed by Gloucester Point development and most recently “South Port”. None of those projects were ever fulfilled despite millions being spent on architect drawings and plans. One thing the four projects all had in common, Gloucester City politicians were involved in part or all of the planning of each."
You have a chance now to speak out before Mayor James and his City council waste more of your hard earn money on trying to develop the Mary Ethel Costello School. Tell them not to proceed. Let a private developer buy it. That is what happened with the old Gloucester Catholic High School building at Monmouth and Burlington Streets. It was purchased by real estate developers Rich Lauletta and Paul Margaritis, owners of WEBO, LLC.
The public hearing and second reading of the ordinance authorizing the deal between the city and the school board is scheduled for Tuesday, August 16 at 7 PM in council chambers, 313 Monmouth Street.
If you can't attend the meeting you can contact your representatives via email. Their emails addresses, which you can't find on the city's website, are listed below.
City Clerk Jentsch<email@example.com>;
City Solicitor Long<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Suggested email message; Dear Mayor and Council, I am opposed to our city becoming the owners of the Mary Ethel Costello School. Let the School Board put the property up for sale. The record has shown that you should not be in involved in the buying and development of real estate properties. You and those before you have wasted enough of my money on failed projects. For once listen to the voice of those who elected you.
Note: Anne Forline, editor of the South Jersey Observer contributed to this article.
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