Expansion site plan

CUMBERLAND – Leaders at the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy paid $1.3 million for two lots next to its high school off Broad Street, about twice the appraised value for the parcels and three times the town’s assessed tax value for them.

The two lots combined, measuring a little more than one acre, are assessed in Cumberland’s real estate database at $392,700. A $1.3 million purchase was finalized Oct. 1.

The Valley Breeze previously reported on the plans for the expansion at the school drawing about 2,200 students from Cumberland, Pawtucket, Lincoln and Central Falls, but was not aware of the purchase price for the lots included in the proposal at the time.

Jeremy Chiappetta, CEO and superintendent at BVP, said this week that the $1.3 million was the best deal the charter schools could negotiate.

“We negotiated in good faith with the Almeida estate,” he said. “We negotiated what was frankly the best deal we could using the resources we had to come to an agreement.”

He said he couldn’t recall what the professional appraisal came in at as part of the purchase process, but remembers it being between $600,000 and $700,000, so the school certainly paid more than double the appraised value. The reason for that, said Chiappetta, is that “there is one property in the world that we were extremely interested in, and they knew that.” To any other person, the property would have a certain value, he said, but an abutter often has a different value.

“For us it’s a perfect piece of property, and for the community it’s also a really great opportunity,” he said. “That was a blighted lot.”

The purchase and expansion are being paid for through a variety of sources, including borrowing. Though not directly funded by taxpayers, Cumberland pays more than $3 million annually for the local students who attend the BVP schools. The Pawtucket school budget shows $4.3 million being paid this year for total charter school tuitions.

According to Chiappetta, the school’s board voted on Jan. 11 to approve the sale.

The board was set to meet on Monday in part to discuss plans for the expansion of the high school building and parking lot on Broad Street, but the meeting was called off due to a lack of a quorum. The school has started the process of getting expansion plans approved by the Planning Board.

A review of the written and approved minutes from the Jan. 11 meeting show there was a closed-door executive session, but does not disclose what the vote was that was taken, as is required under the Open Meetings Act.

“The board reports that there was a vote taken in executive session relative to the real property discussed,” stated the minutes available as of Tuesday. The board then voted to seal the minutes. The Breeze has requested that the minutes of that executive session be unsealed based on the fact that the property acquisition has since been finalized and there is no reason to keep them private.

Cumberland Mayor Jeff Mutter, who is now chairman of the board but said he recused himself on these matters, said this week that votes taken in executive session need to be reported out in public session when it is appropriate to do so. “The reporting out should be on a meeting docket of that particular body with the vote taken reported out in its entirety,” he said.

The minutes of the meeting of the mayor-led board show that Mutter voted to go into executive session with members James Diossa, Jessica Waters, Mike Magee, Monica Zuluaga, and John Silva. Then-Lieutenant Gov. Dan McKee, the former Cumberland mayor who launched BVP and is now governor, was not in attendance, nor were former Mayor William Murray, member Roxanne Vrees, former Lincoln Town Administrator Joe Almond, or member John Morton.

The lots purchased are one measuring .86 acres at 5 Jones St. and one measuring .18 acres at 198 Broad St. Town property records show that they were sold by Valentino and Lucinda Almeida, but Chiappetta said the negotiations were with their estate led by the couple’s children.

Chiappetta noted that the former Valley Motors Auto Body and adjoining vacant parcel was a blighted lot, with dozens of abandoned cars. The purchase is sort of in keeping with BVP’s story of acquiring abandoned or crumbling lots in Valley Falls and restoring them, he said. He added that there was some initial thought of using buildings on the property for office space, or rental income, including the garage, but they were deemed to be total tear-downs.

Chiappetta said he has no regrets about the purchase process, saying this was a protracted negotiation involving attorneys for both the seller and buyer. He said he was given the play-by-play on the talks, and it was a “pretty challenging negotiation at the level it was done.”

As to the discussion of the board in January, Chiappetta said he remembers the theme being that “market value is one thing, but the value to us is entirely different.” He said he presented a series of options on other properties or strategies to pursue in expanding the high school, but this was the most feasible and economically viable option, avoiding such scenarios as developing a 9th-grade academy miles away and all the costs associated with that.

“The proximity to our location is incredibly valuable,” he said. “… I made a recommendation, and the board ultimately made the decision that was best for the school.”

It should be noted, said Chiappetta, that the school doesn’t currently have plans for the entire property, and though the parcel closest to Broad Street had to be included in the package deal, plans don’t currently call for using it. He said there could be an opportunity to invest in it or sell it, but the current proposal for expanding parking and other improvements doesn’t contemplate using it.

Also worth mentioning, said Chiappetta, is that though the auto repair business might not seem to have value to the average person, it was a family business that had to be shuttered due to retirements, so that’s “another element of the value from their perspective” that was factored in and made it a complex negotiation.

Phase one and phase two environmental reviews have come back clean on the site, according to Chiappetta.

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