It took nearly 18 months, but the sale of the Cioni Building, the Kingston City School District’s administrative HQ, to developer Neil Bender has finally closed. On Thursday, Nov. 15 — “at 1:30 p.m.,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino — the deal was done.
“We are now officially tenants,” said Padalino this week. “We’re no longer owners.”
In July 2017, the school board approved selling its current administrative headquarters to 61 Crown Street LLC, which is led by New York City-based Bender and filed a bid as BRE Properties. The original sale price of $4.25 million was reduced to $3.47 million after some structural issues with the edifice were discovered.
Bender could not be reached for comment.
It took some time to get closure for the building, which the developers say will be converted into a boutique hotel. This week, Padalino said, he never lost faith.
“Never say never and never say always,” Padalino said. “But the conversations with the purchaser and the commitment he made with the due diligence they did and the investment they made in researching the project that they want to go forward with, I was feeling very, very confident that this was going to go through. A couple of delays here and there but nothing that made me ever think that they were in any way going to step away.
Still, was there a sense of relief to get the deal across the finish line? Letting go a breath Padalino didn’t realize he’d been holding?
“It was nice to have it done and get the check in the bank,” he said. “But I really never had a doubt.”
Though technically two different projects with one not wholly depending upon the other, the perception as the Cioni sale and the administrative move into the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary school were often discussed simultaneously was that they were linked. Meagher will also house a pre-kindergarten hub.
In April, the district received the first review of architectural plans for Meagher from the State Education Department, giving school officials hope that they’ll be able to break ground on the project this summer and move their headquarters there from Cioni by the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, though the terms of the sale of their Crown Street headquarters gives them up to two years to fully vacate.
Work relating to classroom space and other student-specific areas at Meagher is eligible for building aid from the state, and the project’s plans were approved by the department earlier this summer.
The school board has OK’d four contracts totaling roughly $4.06 million for the Meagher project, with its pre-K program scheduled to open to students in September 2019. The Meagher project’s total budget is $4.23 million.
Padalino described work at Meagher as already being ahead of schedule, with asbestos abatement and demolition of the facility’s boiler system, which was installed in 1937, completed. Installation of a new heating system and bathroom renovation is also under way.
“I visited there a couple of weeks ago,” said Padalino on Tuesday. “It’s moving forward. And there’s a big difference between the high school or other schools: They can show up at 8 in the morning and work until 5 in the afternoon seven days a week and they don’t have to work about hard barriers for students and noise situations. They’re able to move a lot more quickly in a vacant building than they are in schools, where they can only work like that in the summer or around student schedules.”
Selling Cioni put the district on a two-year clock to fully vacate, though school officials are hopeful they can beat the Nov. 15, 2020 deadline by over a year.
“This summer, depending upon what we can do,” Padalino said. “We’re really guessing that we will be able to get into Meagher by Aug. 1. Depending upon our maintenance guys and custodial people who have so much work going on, is it possible we’ll be in there by Sept. 1 of next year? Possible, yes. Probable, eh. We’ll see.”
Padalino said that pre-K program is slated to open with four classes, with the possibility of expanding to six. Each pre-K class has a state-mandated maximum capacity of 19 students, with one teacher and a teaching assistant in each. The curriculum is already set, and at least two dual-language classes are planned. The parameters of the search for students are still being discussed, but the district is already trying to identify good teaching candidates.