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Reprinted from the Press of Atlantic City
November 30, 2004

CRDA got deal on A.C. school buildings, preservationist says

By DEREK HARPER Staff Writer, (609) 272-7203

ATLANTIC CITY - Preservationists who opposed the Atlantic City School District's sale of two district properties earlier this year said the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority paid the district took too little money for them.

District officials defended the arrangement, saying the value was accurate and came from multiple appraisals.

The school board passed a resolution Jan. 21 approving the sale, and in March, the district formally transferred the old Ohio Avenue School, district office and maintenance building to the CRDA for $2.5 million, according to the deed recorded in the Atlantic County Clerk's Office.

Another $1.5 million was set into escrow, district Business Administrator Lisa Mooney said, and the remnant will be paid to the district after all building teardowns and property cleanups.

However, preservationist Gwen Goodwin pointed out that Atlantic City had for years given significantly different values for the property.

The district's office and its land, at 1809 Pacific Ave., were together assessed at $8,364,000. The land under the school, at 21 S. Ohio Ave., was valued at $130,700, according to city property records. Records give no value for the Ohio Avenue school building.

Together, the city valued the properties at $8,494,700, or almost $4.5 million more than what the CRDA gave the district. Records indicate this has been the properties' assessment for several years.

"CRDA is getting a bargain," Goodwin said, "and it seems to me that they are cheating the taxpayers of New Jersey." Goodwin runs a Web site dedicated to preserving the school at

However, the city's figure may hold little more than symbolic value. On most properties, the assessments are used to determine property taxes. Public schools, run by the government, pay no taxes.

The district decided on the final $4 million figure because of two certified appraisals by the firm of Herskowitz, Rosen & Walton Inc., district Superintendent Fredrick Nickles said.

The firm appraised the buildings at $4 million and $3.7 million, Mooney said. The firm did not return a call seeking comment on how they got that figure.

The appraisal firm, with offices in Atlantic City, Woodbury, Cherry Hill and Conshohocken, Pa., does work for a number of other municipalities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In 2003, the Atlantic County freeholders contracted them to do appraisals for land at the intersection of Mill Road and Spruce Avenue.

In October, the district moved out of its office into a new headquarters on the fifth floor of the CitiCenter Building, 1300 Atlantic Ave. At its last meeting, the district approved paying Diversified Capital, which owns the building, $20,426.93 for a month's rent. Over a year, that comes to about $245,000.

Before they moved, district officials had said they spent nearly $500,000 annually to run the now-vacant Ohio Avenue School and the adjacent administration building, both on Pacific Avenue.

The Ohio Avenue School was built in two phases in 1900-1901 and 1910, and served as the original Atlantic City High School.

The CRDA had planned to convert the property into a temporary parking lot, used by the Atlantic City Medical Center and casinos. When the lot is no longer needed, the CRDA would transfer title to Caesars Entertainment, which has planned to build a hotel tower/parking garage.

Curtis Bashaw, the head of the CRDA, recently said his group wanted to keep the former board offices standing, while demolishing the other properties. He said he asked Caesars to incorporate the board offices in their plans. The state's Department of Environmental Protection is still determining if the CRDA will get the permits to do the work.

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