Lynch School Redevelopment Brings Opportunity and Growth to Holyoke Text Size

When Lynch Middle School closed its doors for good in 2008, many wondered what would become of the property. After the School Committee voted to dispose of the site and give it to the City in 2010, City officials had hoped that the property and its convenient location next to the highway would draw the attention of retail developers. Request for Proposals (RFP) had been issued under the previous administration, but to no avail.  

When I took office in 2012, the redevelopment of Lynch school was a top priority for my administration that aligned closely with our goal of attracting economic development to expand our tax base and bring in the revenue and job opportunities that our City so desperately needs. Holyoke has only a handful of attractive sites ready for development, Lynch being one of these key sites. After years of sitting vacant, other than the occasional use of the gym for events, another Request for Proposals was released at the end of March this year.  

In a sign of economic strength and recovery, the City received three bids by May 6th. After review, I announced my support of the offer submitted by Frontier Development to purchase the property for $750,000 and develop it into a retail site.

Frontier’s proposal, “Holyoke Commons”, would be a 25,000 square foot retail development with three or more tenants. As of now the developers estimate that this will be a $7,000,000 project, meaning that at our current commercial rate the City will receive an estimated additional $278,250 in property taxes. To put it into the context of our current budget, that is more than enough revenue to fund our entire Parks and Recreation department. In addition, this development will create dozens of jobs that will be available to City residents desperately in need of work.

On May 5th, the night before bids were to be opened, the School Committee voted 9-1 to ask the City Council to hand the former school back to the School Department, with the hopes of developing a pre-k school and relocating School Department offices.  As many of you know, I was the lone vote in opposition of this proposal.

While I fully support the spirit of the Superintendent’s plan, especially transforming our school system to one that attracts students from outside of our City rather then driving our residents away, it’s important to clarify some of the key arguments that are being made in favor of this plan.

The plan is to move School Department offices to Metcalf School, which some claim would save the City of Holyoke the $330,000. However, this figure is misleading and inaccurate. Of the, $330,000, $150,000 is actual rent, another $150,000 is comprised of operating expenses that would exist in any location, and the remaining $30,000 is property taxes that goes directly back into city coffers. This information was recently confirmed by Andrew Crystal, Vice President of O’Connell Development. In the same article, Mr. Crystal stated that O’Connell Development would like to discuss the City purchasing 57 Suffolk Street; a possibility that could allow us to collect rent from the other tenants currently occupying the building.

Moreover, when weighing the two options, one must consider the amount of money it will take to renovate both Metcalf and Lynch Schools to satisfy modern code regulations, in addition to the expenses that will need to be spent on the proper upgrades necessary to meet pre-kindergarten standards. Because the building has not been utilized as a school in over five years, the City must now bring the entire building up to code in order to occupy it. Our Director of Purchasing, who has worked on a number of school construction and rehabilitation projects in his over 40 years with the City, estimates that this cost will be at least $3,000,000 to $5,000,000, conservatively. Not only is Lynch a poor location for early childhood programs, we simply cannot afford such a project.

At the same time, the School Committee has already filed Statements of Interest with the Massachusetts School Building Authority for upgrades at McMahon and Lawrence Schools. Because of proposed projects such as Library Commons and Holyoke Catholic School, which together will add an additional 110 housing units to the Downtown, our money would be better spent investing in school facilities in the neighborhoods where our current and future students actually live. The prospect of having a brand new, state-of-the-art school in the heart of Downtown is an opportunity the City cannot pass up, especially given that the State will cover 80% of the project cost.

I have not been shy about my administration’s intentions to bring more commercial development into our City in order to expand our tax base and create jobs for our residents – this is a priority and it will continue to be so.  The Holyoke Commons proposal is exactly the kind of interest that City officials have aimed to generate for years, and because of the language in the RFP crafted by our team in the Office of Planning and Economic Development, any potential developer would be required to inform the City of any guaranteed tenants. When we issued this RFP, it was with the understanding that the winning bidder would have to cooperate with the community to ensure that residents would have a voice in the development process.

While I have been clear about my support for the redevelopment of Lynch into a taxpaying and job-creating entity, I must also fully express my support for the development of new programs within the Holyoke Public Schools. I have committed to Superintendent Paez that the City will assist in identifying the space needed to introduce these programs, be it by utilizing already vacant space within the schools, or otherwise. This does not need to be an “either or” proposition, as I know we can simultaneously accomplish the goals of expanding our tax base and promoting academic achievement.

To continue the public discourse, there is a meeting of the City Council Committee on Government and Developmental Relations scheduled for Thursday, June 5th at 6PM in the City Council Chambers. My hope is for the project to advance that night, as the project developer is eager to move forward, and I appreciate the support for this plan already voiced by City Council President Kevin Jourdain. For years, we’ve tried to attract business to this property and to get in the way of that would be a disappointment and a disservice to Holyoke.  I’ll be advocating for retail development at the Lynch School site, because our City is in dire need of tax revenue and at this point, we simply can’t afford to lose another potential developer willing to invest in Holyoke.  I hope you’ll join me as we continue to “Grow Holyoke.”

Posted on May 19, 2014 by