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City Council debates loan order for Wonderland purchase

2011 Zambuto USE
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  The city’s administration is looking for nearly $30 million to buy 33 acres of land at Wonderland by eminent domain for a new Revere High School. Earlier this year, the City Council and the School Committee backed the selection of the Wonderland property as the site for a new high school. The City Council is now being asked to approve a $29,500,000 loan order to acquire the property, but some councillors are concerned about the financial impact the request will have on city finances.

  The City Council held a public hearing on the loan order at its Monday meeting and will further discuss the request at a Ways and Means Subcommittee meeting on Oct. 24.

  “Being a member of the School Building Committee, we have been through an extensive process in the vetting of potential sites for the new high school,” said Richard Viscay, the city’s finance director. “There are not many lots that could handle a school of the size that we need to build for the future of the city. However, after vetting all of the options, Wonderland seemed like the most advantageous for the city.”

  Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dianne Kelly also spoke in favor of the City Council approving the loan order and said the students, teachers and administration of Revere High School are in desperate need of a new facility.

  School Committee member Stacey Bronsdon-Rizzo said a new high school will help provide students with the academic and technical knowledge they need to succeed. “This property we are looking at right now is vital for these needs – to be able to give the students the room and the space to grow and become lifelong learners,” she said.

  Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo said he agrees that the city needs to invest in its children and build a new high school, but added that he has several issues with the Wonderland site and the finances. “I’ve said from the beginning, I think it is a horrible location,” said Rizzo. “I think our transportation costs are going to go through the roof. To have 2,000 students descending upon Butler Circle during rush hour, I think, is going to be a very dangerous and troublesome situation for the city going forward.”

  As to the issue of the loan order and the price of the 33 acres at Wonderland, Rizzo noted that Link Logistics recently bought the Global properties at a cost of $3 to $5 million per acre. “Anyone who thinks we are going to get [the Wonderland] land for $29 million is either misled or is making a huge miscalculation,” said Rizzo. “What is going to happen if we approve this $29 million before going back and rethinking this? We are going to find ourselves in court because they will never settle on $29 million.”

  Rizzo also asked Viscay if the land purchase and high school project would require a Proposition 21/2 override or a debt exclusion vote.

  “We have some serious work to do looking at the next 10 to 20 years in the city, because it is a substantial amount,” said Viscay. On the loan orders, Viscay said, the city may be looking at payments of about $1.5 million per year for the land purchase on top of $13 million per year for the high school building itself.

  “We are all hearing that Suffolk Downs will bring $40 million in new growth over the next 20 years, so we have to look at how that forecasts out,” said Viscay. “We are definitely looking right now to try to build this high school without an override or without a debt exclusion.”

  Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto also raised concerns about the financial impact on the city if it moves forward with building a high school on the Wonderland property. Zambuto said he estimated the 33 acres at Wonderland have a value of closer to $100 million and could bring in $1 billion in tax revenue over the next 50 years if it brings in half as much money as the Suffolk Downs development.

  “I think it is very risky, and I think we would do better to not take a piece of property off the tax roll and not sell out the future for our great, great-grandchildren,” said Zambuto.

  Ward 4 Councillor Patrick Keefe said he agrees that there should be a lot of discussion among the City Council whenever it comes to spending $30 million. “We already know the high school is going to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “The land acquisition is the unknown that we are all concerned about.”

  However, Keefe said the other sites up for consideration come with their own additional costs. He noted that building on the current high school site was the runner up in the site selection, and that site would have required spending at least $10 million to move a culvert on the property. As for the Wonderland site, Keefe admitted the total cost could come in at about $29 million for the acquisition, but he also noted that it shouldn’t be compared to the price garnered by the Global properties.

  “The site itself has generated thousands of dollars in the last several years, not even close to millions because it has been dormant,” said Keefe. “If the site is so valuable, why have they not done anything with it in the past 10, 12, 15 years? It is not 100 percent buildable, so you are not going to get 33 buildable acres from that land.”

  Keefe said he will support the loan order to acquire the Wonderland site. “I think there are pros and cons, but I think this is the best decision,” said Keefe.

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