Fate of Jefferson school at hand

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 8, 2005

The Thomas Jefferson School has sat vacant, largely ignored for years.

But recently, the former downtown schoolhouse has become a sore spot for some city officials looking ahead to its future development.

Earlier this spring, the city took Requests For Proposals from developers interested in buying and renovating the historic school building next to the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.


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The city is considering three bids, all of which call for renovating the building for residential use, said city spokesman Dennis Craff.

One of the proposals came from downtown developer Mickey Garcia, who wants to spend $2.2 million converting the Jefferson building into 10 lofts for residential and work space.

Mayor Bobby L. Ralph refused to discuss any of the proposals. Because the Suffolk City Council is still in the process of reviewing the RFPs, the information is still confidential, he said.

Garcia’s offer for the school is substantially less than its $536,000 assessed value, which has drawn attention from some council members.

But Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson said she is more concerned about the city’s RFP process.

&uot;That’s the bigger issue,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;The RFP list that was sent out didn’t include a lot of people that should have been on the list. I think the list of names should have included more local people.

&uot;It (the process) has not been done properly. That has been my position since day one.&uot;

The city did run the required legal advertisement and posted the RFP request in the Municipal Building, Johnson said.

Nonetheless, she said, several developers have contacted her, saying they weren’t aware the city was taking RFPs until the submission deadline had passed.

Johnson said she would like to see the RFP process repeated.

Councilman Calvin Jones disagreed.

&uot;The real question is did we follow the process,&uot; he said.

&uot;As long as we did, I feel like we have to honor the process.&uot;

A public hearing on the Jefferson School’s future is being held at the July 20 council meeting.

A public hearing is standard operating policy whenever the city sells surplus property, said City Attorney C. Edward Roettger. The sale of the property will also have to be approved by six of the city’s seven council members.

Projects don’t necessarily go to the high bidder, added Ralph.

&uot;It has to be someone who is qualified and has the backing to do the job,&uot; he said.

&uot;We also look to see what the project is like. We want to have something suitable for the area.&uot;

Since Jefferson is located in a residential community, apartments or condominiums would be a good fit for the former school house, he said.