The city council has voted to change the “use” restriction on the closed Devens School property’s deed to clear the way for the school department to lease the building for an “alternative school” for special education students.
School officials last week had unveiled a plan to save an estimated $2,412,723 in special education spending by returning 70 students – who have been attending “out of district” schools elsewhere – to local classrooms at the former Devens School, located at 22 Church Street.
The savings would come from reduced costs for transportation and from tuition that no longer would have to be paid to those out-of-city schools where the students have been going.
Even after paying an approximate $400,000 a year for rent, Supt. of Schools Frederick Foresteire stated there would still be more than $2.4-million in savings, “which will be put to use elsewhere in the school budget”.
Foresteire asserted that the plan is self-sustaining, thus the school department is not looking for any appropriation from the city government.
At a joint convention of the aldermen and councilors Monday night, Supt. Foresteire explained that the school department will be seeking a 10-year lease from the building’s owner, Anthony Cassano, with an option to buy the building down the road, if and when the city is in a position where it can afford to do so.
But it was first necessary for the city to change the restriction it had placed on the deed when it sold the Devens property to Cassano in 2008.
Under the terms of that deed, the building can only be used for senior housing units, a project that Cassano abandoned a couple of years ago due to the economy.
The city council was asked to amend the deed to allow the property to now be used exclusively by the local school department for its alternative school project.
Cassano would be assuming the obligation of completely renovating and bringing the now-closed building fully up-to-code at a cost of an estimated two to three million dollars.
After the joint convention session, the two legislative bodies met separately Monday night and approved the requested change in the lease.
The common council vote was 14-1. Councilor Michael McLaughlin cast the sole negative vote because he wanted to delay action on the issue until after a neighborhood meeting could be held with the residents who live in the area of the Devens School to get their input.
Later in the evening, the aldermen voted 5-0 for the deed change – Aldermen Sal Sachetta and Chuck DiPerri were recorded as absent on the roll call vote.
Supt. Foresteire said he’s hopeful that the lease agreement and the renovations can be completed on schedule so that the alternative school can open next January.