Town Of Lewisboro To Lease Portion Of Closed Elementary School

SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. -- Nearly three years after Lewisboro Elementary School (LES) was shuttered due to falling enrollment across younger grade levels, the Katonah-Lewisboro School District announced that it has reached a deal for the town of Lewisboro to lease roughly 20 percent of the building.

Lewisboro Elementary School, which was closed in 2014 due to declining enrollment among the district's younger grades.
Lewisboro Elementary School, which was closed in 2014 due to declining enrollment among the district's younger grades. Photo Credit: Katonah-Lewisboro School District

The district announced that the proposed lease, which would take effect on April 1 of this year, is subject to a vote of approval by the school board at a meeting on Saturday, while the Lewisboro Town Board is set to ratify the agreement on Monday.

The agreement is slated to bring in about $95,000 annually, the district said. The annual cost of maintaining the vacant school is about $100,000, the district added.

The lease, which runs for four years, would allow for the town to rent out roughly 13,000 square feet of the structure, which is located along Bouton Road in South Salem. LES is a short drive away from Lewisboro Town Hall, which is in South Salem's historic hamlet center.

The town's planned usage will include its municipal court, which will run on Mondays, the district notes.

The lease is structured so that the district can terminate it should LES be needed again as a school.

LES was closed in June 2014 in response to falling enrollment; the decision to do so followed a series of heated public hearings and sharp resistance from affected parents. Students were redistricted to Meadow Pond Elementary School (MPES), which is in the Vista area, and to Increase Miller Elementary School (IMES), which is in Goldens Bridge. Some IMES students were redistricted to Katonah Elementary School (KES) in order to accommodate the LES kids.

Over the years, the town has struggled to maintain enough space for its litany of services, which are scattered in multiple locations. The spots, aside from town hall, include a shopping plaza in Cross River, where police and land-use boards meet; and at Onatru, a park where the recreation department meets. There has been talk in the past about building a new structure by town hall.

The district notes that it is continuing to search for tenants to lease the remainder of the building.

Below is a copy of the district's press release, which includes a detailed Q&A section pertaining to what LES can be used for and how the deal will work:

KLSD pleased to announce cooperative venture with Town of Lewisboro

After almost two years of looking for a tenant for Lewisboro Elementary School, the KLSD Board of Education has reached a tentative agreement with the Town of Lewisboro to rent approximately 20% of the vacant school’s space for use as town offices and police headquarters.

The four-year renewable lease commences April 1, 2017. It is anticipated that the KLSD Board will take action on the proposed lease at its public meeting on Saturday, February 25. It is also anticipated that the Town of Lewisboro Board will take action on the proposed lease at its public meeting on Monday, February 27.

“Although the school building is not currently housing a community of learners, the Lewisboro Elementary School will always be part of our history, and the spirit of those who attended and taught there will always be part of our story,” said Andrew Selesnick, KLSD Superintendent of Schools.

Please see below for additional information.

1. How does this new arrangement benefit both KLSD and the Town of Lewisboro? Will the District be able to lower taxes as a result? The unique win-win for Katonah-Lewisboro residents is that the tax dollars used to pay the Town of Lewisboro’s rent will now stay within the community. The Town of Lewisboro is currently taxing residents and paying rent to a private property owner. With this new lease, the Town of Lewisboro will be taxing residents of Lewisboro approximately the same amount, but its rent will be paid to the school district. The revenue received will help offset existing and new costs associated with maintaining LES and, as such, it becomes a benefit to the entire KLSD community.

2. How much of LES will the Town of Lewisboro rent? Approximately 13,000 square feet, or 20% of the building. KLSD is actively trying to rent other parts of the building and is represented by William Raveis Real Estate.

3. Why doesn’t the District operate a community center out of LES or something else that would benefit the children of our towns? Running a community center is not in the KLSD Board of Education’s purview. A community center would also require a variance to LES zoning (see question 4). Another party could request a variance to operate a community center providing they pay fair market value for the rent (see question 5).

4. Why didn’t the District rent LES to a business or other organization that would bring in more revenue and further reduce taxes in KLSD? KLSD is bound by the Town of Lewisboro’s zoning regulations for this property. Those regulations currently limit both the opportunity for retail sales and most types of professional office space. Because the zoning permits Town of Lewisboro municipal uses, Lewisboro town and police offices are acceptable.

5. Why doesn’t KLSD simply let the town or town groups use LES for meetings and recreation without charge? It would be considered a “gift of public funds” if the KLSD were to allow non-school related groups to use the facilities on a permanent basis without charge. The District is prohibited from entering into such an arrangement by NYS Education Law section 403-a which authorizes boards of education to lease unneeded school district property, but requires that the rent received be of at least fair market value.

As noted in question number one above, the arrangement achieved by this lease benefits both the District and the Town. In addition to making good use of the space, it allows both entities to account appropriately for the expenses and revenues. If KLSD were somehow able to let the Town simply use the facilities “free of charge,” it would not actually be free to the taxpayers of Lewisboro and Katonah due to the additional costs required by an occupied building.

6. Will the playgrounds still be accessible? The playgrounds will continue to be accessible. The District reminds residents, however, that any use of unsupervised facilities is at the risk of the user.

7. Can town recreation programs use the gym at LES? The gym is currently being marketed by our real estate agent. At the same time, the District and Town are discussing the Town’s possible rental of that space. Should the town wish to use the gym on a regular basis, an amendment would be necessary to the current lease.

8. Since parts of the building are still vacant, can a community group request use of space in the building (as is done in the open schools in the District) for a one-time event? Because this building is not staffed and maintained like other District buildings, it is not available for daily use.

9. Who has decision-making authority over what happens to LES? For the vast majority of decisions to be made, authority rests with the KLSD Board of Education.

10. How much does it cost KLSD to maintain LES as a vacant building? Although the building is vacant, the District must do routine checks and must maintain a low level of heat in the building to prevent pipes from freezing. Depending on the price for oil and electricity, a vacant LES costs KLSD approximately $100,000 a year. This includes oil, electricity, routine building checks, landscaping, and snow removal. These operating costs will increase with the partial occupancy of the building. We anticipate, however, that the rental income (see question 11) will reduce the net expense associated with the maintenance of LES.

11. How much rent will be collected? Annual revenue from renting LES to the Town of Lewisboro is estimated to be $95,000 including heat and electricity. There is an opportunity within the lease for adjustments should utility prices and/or consumption fluctuate.

12. How much car traffic should we expect around LES on a daily basis? How about at night? During the day, there should be less traffic than when the school was in operation. Night traffic on Mondays, the one day of the week when court is in session, may be as many as forty to fifty cars, with a staggered departure.

13. What about the future? Our agreement with the Town of Lewisboro includes a clause that allows the District to end the lease early for a variety of reasons. The KLSD Board will remain mindful of enrollment fluctuations, the age of the building, maintenance costs, and the benefits of continuing to lease the building. Should the school board ever consider selling the building, it would need to go to a referendum of the entire school community.

14. What have other communities done in this situation? Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress reports that at least nineteen school buildings have closed across a nine-county region stretching from Westchester to Greene and Columbia Counties since 2009. This organization finds that communities across the state and nation have re-used empty school buildings as municipal centers, senior and workforce housing, health clinics, office spaces, business incubators, and more.

The school closing in closest proximity to KLSD is French Hill Elementary School in Yorktown Central School District. It closed in 2010, and after two years of being vacant, is now rented to several businesses and organizations including Children’s Corner Nursery School, Energize New York, Soaring Eagle Physical Therapy, and the Yorktown Youth Soccer Club. Their zoning is different and allows for these types of businesses.

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