Alma del Mar releases more details on plans for New Bedford’s Kempton School

Date Published: 
February 5, 2019
Aimee Chiavaroli
News Type: 

NEW BEDFORD — Provided that the former Kempton School is conveyed to Alma del Mar, plans include an addition on the site, a charter school official said.

Alma del Mar is also eyeing a temporary space to open the second campus in August, school spokeswoman Becca Kurie said.

“Our initial reaction to what we saw during the (Kempton) walk-through was that it’s promising but will take a lot of work,” Kurie said in an email.

The roof is leaking and there is water damage throughout the building, she said. Mayor Jon Mitchell has said that the school, built in 1901, doesn’t have a functioning boiler.

“But we also saw stacks of chapter books and classroom materials that reminded us we were walking through a building that once was used to educate New Bedford kids, and we’re hopeful that it will return to that use again soon,” Kurie said.

The School Committee and the City Council will have to vote in order for Alma del Mar to get Kempton at no cost. School district property is administered by the School Committee, but in the case of a property transfer following a school closure, the property is turned back to the city and then the council approves plans from there, explained Andrew O’Leary, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

Last month, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education granted Alma del Mar an additional 450 seats, and as a condition the school is set to participate in “good-faith negotiations” with New Bedford Public Schools, resulting in a memorandum of understanding, which is subject to approval by Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. The MOU needs to be taken care of within 45 days of the letter of intent being signed.

If Riley determines that negotiations on the MOU between both parties have “irretrievably broken down” or necessary legislation hasn’t been enacted in “sufficient” time for planning and implementation of the neighborhood charter school model, the board has approved an additional 594 seats instead of 450.

The overall structure of the building is solid, Kurie said. The second campus will need an addition to increase the capacity of the building to serve 450 students.

Asked about the capacity, O’Leary said it’s approximately 180 students, but it only reached that point once or twice over the past 20 years. In that time and up to its closure in 2015, the school averaged 130 students.

O’Leary described Kempton as a “very simple two level building” with an attic and basement. The latter had been used for kitchens, boiler space and cafeteria seating. He confirmed there is no gym in the school.

Alma del Mar officials anticipate that it will take several years to repair and renovate the building and are working on an estimated cost, Kurie said,.

Kurie said Alma del Mar has begun fundraising and anticipates qualifying for some funds through the Federal Charter School Program Grant, since charter schools aren’t eligible for funding through the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The original school was funded by $10 million in tax-exempt bonds through MassDevelopment, more than $4 million in New Market Tax Credits and $3 million via its own fundraising, Kurie said.

Alma del Mar moved into the former Ottiwell School in 2011. According to minutes from a July 17, 2014 City Council meeting, the council voted to sell Alma del Mar the property for $102,500.

In the fall of 2016, students and staff were able to move into a newly constructed school on the opposite end of the same block. Then, the Ottiwell School was demolished.

Costs to oversee the Kempton property are currently negligible, O’Leary said by email, since major utilities were shut off. The property requires basic security, exterior lighting and lawn care, he said.

O’Leary said Kempton and Rodman Elementary spent a total of $1,654,050 in the 2014-15 school year. Rodman absorbed most Kempton students and spent $1,208,000 the next year, he said.

So, maximum savings are about $446,00 but with some students going elsewhere in the district, the “true observed savings” were likely in the low $300,000 range, he said, when asked how much the district actually saved by closing Kempton.

According to the New Bedford assessor’s website, the total value of the property for fiscal year 2019 is listed as $1,497,300.