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Council approves sale of former Lynch School

July 11, 2014 | By G. Michael Dobbs

At the corner of an exit of Interstate 91 and on U.S. Route 5 (Northampton Street) the former Lynch School is at a high traffic location making it appealing to developers.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – With an approval from the City Council, the Morse administration will continue its efforts to work with a developer to bring a retail center to the location of the Lynch School.
The council voted nine in favor and six against accepting the bid of $750,000 from Frontier Development LLC to buy the property on July 8. Frontier was the winning bid determining through a Requests for Proposal process.
School Superintendent Dr. Sergio Páez had included the Lynch School in his education plan and had asked the council to return the school to the School Committee, a move that was approved by every member of the committee except for Mayor Alex Morse.
Morse said after the meeting that he was “very pleased” with the outcome and stressed the final sale of the property will be contingent upon a change in the zoning of the property and approval of the site plan site, both of which will require council approval.
He said that over the summer members of his administration will work with the developers to determine what kind of retail – a concern expressed by several of the councilors – would go on the site.
Morse said that he will seek retail outlets the don’t “duplicate what already in the area.” He believes the other abutting businesses might find themselves in demand if Frontier is interested in expanding its footprint.
The mayor has already expressed some of his ideas to the developers which include another grocery store so residents have a choice other than Stop and Shop as well as a coffee shop that can be a gathering place for people.
Morse noted that last fall he was urged by some members of the council to find a buyer for the Lynch School, which had been closed five years and returned to city control from the School Committee.  He believes the actions of his administration “sends a positive message to developers.” 
The council’s vote was to approve the recommendation of the Committee on Development and Government Affairs headed by Councilor David Bartley. Bartley said the committee met for four to five hours over two sessions list to both the pros and cons from school officials, business people and residents.
Bartley noted, “There is a desperate need for improving schools and a desperate needs for economic development.’ He added, “It’s a tough vote no matter how you look at it.”
As dictated by the city charter, the public could not speak out at the special meeting of the council, but Council President Kevin Jourdain allowed councilors to read letters expressing concerns of residents to read into the record.
A group of 16 High Street businesses sent letters expressing support for the building to be used as a school and fear that additional retail there would negatively affect the redevelopment of High Street. A letter from School Committee member John Brunelle asked the council to  “think long range and not accept the easy way out” by allowing a developer to buy the property.
Councilor Anthony Soto said he was “more than disappointed” with the results from the mayor’s economic development team and he said that Páez “is a really courageous guy for going against his boss [Morse].”
Morse said the superintendent was moving forward his plans for school reform in Holyoke. “The superintendent made it very clear he cam make his vision possible without the Lynch School,” Morse said. 
The sentiment expressed by Councilor Joseph McGiverin summed up the arguments of the winning side. “We need the new tax money, “ he said and noted the school site is in the middle of a group of businesses “it makes sense to let a developer develop this.”

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