Housing could replace vacant school

Photo by Ron Leir Belleville is reviewing two development proposals for the old Elementary School 1 site. Both plans call for taking down the school building in favor of new construction.
Photo by Ron Leir
Belleville is reviewing two development proposals for the old Elementary School 1 site. Both plans call for taking down the school building in favor of new construction.


By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent


It’s been sitting stagnant for years, except as a place for parking the township’s yellow school buses.

And then, even that activity ceased last year when the Belleville Board of Education relocated its bus fleet to another location in the Valley section.

So now the township is looking to market the old Belleville Elementary School 1 property – which takes up a square block bounded by Cortlandt, Academy, Stephens and Rutgers Sts. – and its solicitation for Requests For Proposal (RFP) has yielded two prospects.

Representatives of rival developers made individual pitches before the township governing body last Tuesday, April 9, although two Town Council members – Dr. John Notari and Michael Nicosia – were unable to attend because of other commitments.

Members of the public were barred from sitting in on the discussions because, as Township Attorney Tom Murphy explained, the contents of the talks involved “real estate negotiations,” which, he said, are confidential.

However, Remo DiPopolo, managing member, Group D Capital Partners I, and Ralph M. Riefolo, of Riefolo Construction Co., both of Belleville, who made the separate presentations to the mayor and council previously submitted written proposals to the township in response to the RFP and The Observer was able to review those documents.

Group D Capital Partners I wants to demolish the school building and “construct one or more buildings” comprising “18,000 to 22,000 square feet” in total as “retail, commercial and/or professional” space.

The building height will be “18 feet to 24 feet” and “occupancy may be by a single user or multiple users” so the plan “should allow for division of the structure at the option of the developer.”

No specific number of parking spaces are projected but the project will “include sufficient parking to accommodate the proposed use.”

DiPopolo’s company is offering to purchase the property for $275,000, with an initial 10% down payment, and, if that offer is accepted, take six months to conduct an environmental study of the site, do a title search, do a survey and engineering study, perform soil borings to assess geological conditions and civil engineering studies on drainage.

The company says it will pay for demolition of the school building at a cost “not to exceed $650,000,” handle asbestos abatement for no more than $75,000, remove underground fuel tanks and remediate any contaminated soil for a maximum of $200,000.

So, altogether, Group Capital Partners 1 appears to be committing $1.2 million for the project.

Riefolo Construction Co. says it will pay $1 million for the property, adding it will pay $200,000 upfront and the balance “upon receiving clear title to the property with all demolition and clean-up required for the building to be done by the seller.”

Riefolo says it will undertake an environmental study “to determine if the existing oil tanks have leaked and the extent of the contamination. If the tanks have leaked and contaminated the surrounding soil, [Riefolo] has the right to void this offer and have the deposit returned immediately.”

If it opts to go forward, Riefolo says it will “construct 60 fair market multifamily housing units ….”

Elaborating, Riefolo’s plans – as reflected in a schematic prepared by Cozzarelli Cirminiello Architects – call for 20 one-bedroom and 40 two-bedroom apartments contained within four 4-story buildings with grade level parking along the Academy St. side of the property, with additional off-street parking for a total of 120 spaces including handicapped parking.

There would be “lawn areas,” and “pedestrian walking paths” and trees scattered through the complex which would be “gated” and have “controlled 24-hour access to and from the property” which would be accessed by two driveways along Cortlandt and Stephens Sts.

Building elevations would be about 44 feet.

The outside of the buildings would feature “cultured stone, brick and trim board [consisting of a] polymer and ash based product for durability …. The roofing [would be] a minimum 30 year fiberglass asphalt dimensional shingle [with] accents of metal roofing ….[and] … will have ice and water shield ….”

Buildings will be equipped with a fire suppression system, enclosed stair-towers and emergency lighting and exiting and will feature a covered entrance from the parking area.

Each apartment will contain “living and dining areas,” washer and dryer units, and 350 cubic feet of storage space.

It’s expected that the governing body will continue deliberations with all members participating before deciding what, if anything, to do next.

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