Thus, the Weehawken Board of Education has decided to sell the building. The township of Weehawken has agreed to purchase it from the board, and may eventually sell the school, in turn, to a real estate developer. The Township Council agreed Wednesday night to the $3.2 million purchase at its regularly scheduled council meeting. The town will assume the terms of the existing lease with Union City, which expires later this year. At that time, there will be a new three-year lease with Union City, and an option for a fourth year. After that, Union City will be able to use its new middle school to house the academic programs that are currently held in Wilson School.
"The Union City Board of Education informed our Board of Ed. that they will not need Woodrow Wilson School in the future, so the handwriting was on the wall that we would eventually have a vacant school," Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said. "It's a large building that the school board would be responsible for when it became vacant. They didn't want to get stuck with an aging building in the middle of an established neighborhood."
The school has been leased to Union City since 1995, when the Weehawken Board of Education, faced with shrinking enrollment, reorganized and went to a cluster system.
Before 1995, the town's three schools all housed traditional kindergarten through eighth grade classes, but when the board went to the cluster system, all of the pre-kindergarten through second graders went to Daniel Webster School and the third grade through sixth grade students went to Roosevelt School.
The seventh and eighth graders attend classes inside Weehawken High School. The system has been quite successful since it was implemented nine years ago, and the Board of Education sees no reason to make any changes.
According to Board of Education President Richard Barsa, the board agreed that $3.2 million was a fair market price to sell the school to the township.
"We did an assessment and found that it was a fair price," Barsa said. "It was a regular business deal. Once we sell it, we don't have to worry about becoming building managers."
Both Barsa and Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan said the board tried to see if there were other outside agencies or private schools willing to take over the lease, but there weren't any takers.
"Some schools for the handicapped were interested, but we couldn't come up with a deal," McLellan said. "We were concerned with eventually having an abandoned building and we didn't want that. We're not in the building maintenance business. We're in the education business."
Turner said that Wilson's location makes it a hard sell for a prospective school. It's located on Hauxhurst Avenue, a narrow one-way street with limited parking.
"There aren't a lot of private institutions who would be willing to do that," Turner said. "The school has its share of limitations."
Turner said that the township will begin to explore options as to what to do with the school once it becomes vacant in three or four years.
"It takes a long time to get a handle on a project like this," Turner said. "Councilwoman [Rosemary] Lavagnino, Councilman [James] Terlizzi and myself will begin the transitional phase for taking over the school. When Union City moves out, we want to have plans in place to start new use. We're going to meet with the neighborhood to get their input with any ideas that they would have for the future of the school."
Turner realizes that there are limited options for the building, citing possible government use, but more than likely, the school will be turned into either senior citizen apartments or privately-owned condominiums.
"We've checked around and realized that a conversion to housing could be quite successful," said Turner, citing similar projects, old schools being turned into housing units, which have already been successful in Hoboken and Jersey City. "It could benefit the neighborhood and the town."
If the building is sold to the private sector and converted, then the township would not only benefit from the sale of the building, but also the projected taxes.
McLellan said that he has already applied to the state Department of Education in order to receive permission to sell the building to the town, which has been approved.
"It's a deal that positively made sense," McLellan said. "We have to be able to look to the future."