According to Kingston school officials, an environmental report on the district’s Crown Street administrative headquarters, the Cioni building, have been submitted by the winning bidder on the property. Buyer Neil Bender and the school district are hammering out the details of the $4.25-million purchase. They hope to set a closing date some time after the holiday season.
“It’s still up in the air, but they’re very anxious to get moving,” said superintendent Paul Padalino. “And so are we. Once I lay out for the [school] board where we are and get their direction on where they want me to go next, I think in the beginning of the new year we’re going to be looking at scheduling a closing date and moving this thing forward.”
In July, the school board approved selling its administrative headquarters to 61 Crown Street LLC, led by New York City-based developer Neil Bender. The $4.25-million bid, made with an eye on turning the property into a boutique hotel and spa, came during an open bidding session on the property in booming Uptown Kingston. The next highest bid was for $1.8 million. Padalino said there was no indication in any of the issues in the environmental review of the property to indicate the bidder has cold feet.
“If you look at their bid, they’re $2 million higher than the next closest bidder,” Padalino said. “But those bidders would want to do their due diligence as well. I don’t see, even if there was some level of credit given for conditions that were unseen when they walked through, I don’t see any of that endangering the sale of the building at all.”
The study was originally due to be submitted by November 6, but in September Bender sought and received a month-long extension. According to Padalino, the report came in well ahead of its new December 6 deadline.
Padalino said the report was extensive, due more to technical specifications rather than a long list of concerns. The superintendent added that the existence of asbestos in tiles and around plumbing, which has to be professionally abated, was known prior to the report. The district had already priced out roof replacement in the event it had to stay in the building, so issues in that area were also well known.
“There were some structural issues that they brought out and some environmental issues that they brought out that we’re looking at to see if there’s remediation that we would do or if there’s things that they will need to do, and if so would there be consideration of a credit towards the purchase price should there be some work that they need to do,” Padalino said. “They have their experts, we have our experts, and we’re going back and forth. It’s pretty typical. You go to buy a house and the hot-water heater doesn’t work, and you go back and forth on that. It’s the game, but I happen to be playing it against a billionaire.”
Padalino stressed that there was nothing unusual about the process so far. He expected to know more after December 13 school board meeting. “I think in the end there’s reasonable considerations on both sides,” he said. “My expectation is that we will probably be moving toward closing once they hear that information and we have agreements in place.”
The Cioni building has over 22,000 square feet of building space, and Bender’s plans include connecting to a building he owns on nearby property at 317 Wall St. Even with, or perhaps because of, working in Cioni every day, Padalaino said it could sometimes be difficult to imagine what’s in store for the building.
“It really is hard to picture where it’s going to wind up,” Padalino said. “Going through this process, you get access to some of their thought processes, which we didn’t have before and were thinking, ‘How the heck are they going to do that?’ I do wonder what this is going to look like three or four years from now, for sure.”
In the meantime, the district is moving ahead with its plans to relocate the administration from the Cioni building to the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary School, which is also set to house a pre-kindergarten hub. At an estimated $4.23 million, renovating Meagher will cost nearly as much as Cioni is bringing in. The work there dedicated to classroom and other academic space should be eligible for state building aid.
“All our ducks are in a row,” Padalino said. “Our architects will be meeting with a couple members of the board on Wednesday because board members would like input on the design of the board [meeting] room. It’s similar to what we do with everyone. The architects have met with the business department. They’ve met with me and my secretary. The general design is pretty much ready, and we’ll be submitting our plans to State Ed. probably right before Christmas. Hopefully we’ll be able to move forward in the spring.”