Possible Sale of Former Elm Street School Considered

(Reprinted with Permission)

After comments were made on March 23 by Superintendent Margaret Dolan about the possible sale of the Board of Education’s Headquarters on Elm Street, formerly the Elm Street Middle School and one-time High School, ideas have been bandied about concerning the possible uses of the property.

At a recent social gathering of local residents, ideas about what to do with the property ranged from low income housing, luxury condominiums and even to use the property for the long awaited parking deck project. As the conversation continued long into the evening, the debate got heated when people discussed losing the original structure and its historic importance to the community and its residents.

“We need low income housing in town” said one guest anonymously in fear of reprisal from other residents who he assumes would be vehemently opposed. “We spend so much money on our Mount Laurel obligation it’s about time we try to lessen that burden.” They added that Westfield’s homogeneous socio economic composition could be enhanced by letting working class families live in the center of town.

“That guy is nuts” commented another member. “What we need are luxury condominiums for senior citizens since they don’t have kids in school and they can afford to pay the already high taxes that Westfield has.” The idea of relieving the property taxes in town by converting a non-tax-paying property into a ratable seemed to be very popular with most attendees. By converting the property into a tax paying parcel the property could easily generate an additional million or more dollars per year that could feed the Board of Ed or other municipal agencies.

“Knowing this town they’ll take the money and hire more meter maids” said one person who obviously had no love for meter maids.

Putting a Parking Deck on the location could be a good use of the property commented a few people particularly in light of the Super Stop & Shop that plans to come to the intersection across the street. It is estimated that the Super Shop & Shop will bring an additional 500 to 1000 cars to the area per day and will strain an already overstressed parking environment.

One resident of Elm Street already has plans to capitalize on the new Super Market by setting up thier own private parking lot in their back yard. They anticipate making enough money in a year to pay at least part of their annual property tax liablity.

One commentator stated that coverting the school property into a for-profit parking lot could generate rent for the town as well as property taxes and would also allow the town to avoid the cost of building it themselves.  By putting the deck at that location it would encourage foot traffic through the town as people walked to the train station which should be good for the local businesses commented another.

“It’s such a pretty building with so much history” said a former teacher who worked there for many years in the 60s and 70s. People don’t know that there used to be a tunnel that went over to the playing fields that was filled in after it started to fall apart.  “It needs to be set aside as part of Historic Westfield.”

“It’s all about the Education Budget and those lifetime medical benefits” shouted someone from the back of the room.

No matter what happens to the property it’s clear that Westfield has a very large ditch to dig itself out of regarding its Board of Education Budget. “Since most teachers are unwilling to give into any concessions and would rather see the children suffer and lose out on their educations, it’s unlikely that the ditch will get filled in” said an unemployed bank executive who has been on unemployment for the last year. He added, “If our taxes go any higher I’ll be forced to move to someplace like Garwood or Kenilworth and have my children resent me for the rest of their lives” which was met by a collective sympathetic groan by everyone in the room.

Whatever happens, this is surely only the beginning of the debate.

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