A look at issues facing the City of Englewood. Michael W. Curley, Jr./NorthJersey.com
(Photo: Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com)
ENGLEWOOD ─ The Russell C. Major Liberty School, a 115-year-old building named for one of the city’s leading integrationists, is officially an area in need of redevelopment.
The council declared Tuesday that the former school and its parking lot were dilapidated and qualified for redevelopment, formalizing a recommendation passed on from the city’s Planning Board in January.
“We now have the latitude to have a full discussion on whatever uses might take place on that site and what direction we’d like to go in,” said Council President Wayne Hamer.
The Planning Board based its recommendation on the findings of a city-commissioned study that described the building as structurally sound but dilapidated to the point of threatening public health, safety and welfare.
In a series of hearings over the past few months, planners who surveyed the former school pointed to broken windows, overgrown vegetation, water damage, roof leaks, debris and other similar conditions as examples of disrepair and possible structural damage.
The building’s electric, plumbing and other operational systems were not evaluated.
Studies of the site have also focused on the school’s prime location at the western end of the city’s business district and the potential for smart growth land use. Smart growth refers to development that serves the environment, economy and community equally, and in Englewood’s case, promotes public spaces, enhanced transportation and the revitalization of the downtown.
The city’s master plan, a blueprint for development and activities in the city, envisions Englewood as an arts and cultural center with a mixed-use, walkable business district. The Liberty and Lincoln schools, both city-owned, are expected to be a part of that vision.
The Lincoln School was declared an area in need of redevelopment several years ago and has since been torn down to make way for a five-story apartment building. The 185-unit building is expected to open next year.
The fate of the Liberty School could hue closer to the cultural hub imagined in the master plan.
A resident group calling itself Project Liberty has lobbied for re-purposing the building into an arts school or community center that promotes culture, education and the arts.
“Truly creative development of the Liberty School property into a place of compelling quality and interest could provide the city with a center where a true community could take root,” wrote Michael Shannon, chairman of the group, in a proposal presented to the city. “This would be the place in a vibrant district where everyone would drop in several times a week to find out what’s going on, to meet people, do things together, to become citizens of Englewood.”
City officials have brainstormed a variety of other options, including housing or a residence for the aging, and have emphasized the city’s need to increase ratables, or properties that bring in tax revenue.
Any future development of the site will need to be sensitive to the building’s historic status on the master plan, according to the Planning Board.
T&M Associates, the city’s planning firm, is next expected to create a redevelopment plan for the school. The plan would be vetted by the Planning Board and, if adopted, open the door to proposals from developers.
The site is one of two areas in need of redevelopment in the city.
The City Council voted Tuesday to officially designate the site of a First Student bus depot on South Dean Street as the other area. The property’s owner has expressed interest in building apartments at the location.