Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

By Dennis R. Lieb

As the late winter, spring and summer rolled by, many of you attended the ever-unfurling saga of the Easton School District budget. I must admit a certain glee in not having had to endure that nonsense with you and rather enjoyed the seemingly simple tasks of wading through Planning Commission meetings and wrestling with the design of the new Intermodal Center. But as luck would have it, I wasn't able to avoid the lurking presence of the EASD after all. I received information late today about the Board's intent to vote on the sale of the Cottingham School building in the 800 block of Northampton Street. Apparently, a non-profit outfit that does some type of counseling/housing for teenage girls has offered $300,000 for the property and the District is eager to settle.

Some of you may remember that the WWNP had interest in obtaining that building to house their offices and perhaps other organizations involved in serving the Easton community. It seems like a reasonable idea that the EASD would want to accommodate the neighborhood in some way since they have systematically eliminated numerous neighborhood schools over the past fifty years, including three of the WW elementary schools that I attended for nine years. Bob Freeman, Curt Ehly and myself made pleas at the microphone tonight for the EASD to table their vote on accepting this offer until provisions can be made to present a plan to them about possible acquisition by the city and/or WWNP.

During the run-up to the meeting though, other ominous details have come to light about this proposed
sale. My research so far (and admittedly incomplete) have revealed that the organization in question: Jubilee Homes & Supportive Services Inc. of Albrightsville, Pa. and it's owners, Robert and Rosalyn Hutchings raise numerous red flags. So far I have found consumer complaints of various kinds against the company, a tax case finding against them in NY state and - most alarming - a notice from the Real Estate Commission in the PA. Bulletin indicating Rosalyn Hutchings was fined $16,000 and had her R.E. license revoked last year for...well, for just about everything you could do wrong. Read the Bulletin write-up.

I couldn't stay for the vote so I don't know if it was tabled or not. What I do know is the board continues to make decisions about their physical facilities in a vacuum without considering the impact on the community they leave behind.


Dennis R. Lieb said...


If you read this, give me a call. I need to see that contract of sale again.



noel jones said...

Dennis, thanks for posting on this important issue--I just learned of this last night, after the meeting was already over.

I would like to open up the conversation a bit by throwing the question out to the readers: What do you think would be the best use of the building?

Here are a few differing points of view I have heard since finding out about this last night.

1. Some would like to see the building used as a central location for the various nonprofits that serve the community--the idea that this would encourage cooperation and collaboration between agencies, and be easier for the people who need help, as they could access many resources in one building.

2. Some have reservations about any development on Northampton that is not focused on attracting commerce to the neighborhood. This was the complaint with regard to the proposed police station at the armory on 7th & Northampton.

3. Some are puzzled by the idea that letting a private developer come in and renovate a building that has been sitting dormant and blighted for years on the main thoroughfare of our neighborhood is a bad thing. Why not? (This view was expressed with the caveat that it would have to, of course, be the RIGHT developer, with a well-vetted plan for the building).

I'm wondering if we couldn't put together a hybrid of these ideas and plan for a mixed-use building--nonprofits upstairs, businesses to attract commerce downstairs?

I anticipate a rich debate/discussion on how best to use the building--one thing to keep in mind though--apparently the decision to sell or not to sell has only been tabled for a few weeks, so the discussion needs to happen NOW, people need to get on the phone to their public officials, write letters to the editor, etc., and most of, SHOW UP AND SPEAK UP at the next school board meeting when this issue will be decided.

If anyone knows the date/time and location of the next meeting, please post here!

Cathy Stoops said...

The building sat around blighted because the school board declined to work with community in creating something that could continue to be a beneficial educational asset to the community. We approached the school board two years ago and were turned down. There was a comment made about proposed community usage being a "special interest" that they didn't feel fair to accomodate. Yet the original requirement to pay taxes is based on the expectation that value comes back to the community. It is not fair to ask property owners to accomodate the "special interest" of families with children and budding sports stars when we have heard them say that they don't even want their children on the streets of Easton let alone to stay and work Easton; when the high school is a safety box located outside of town; when propery values continue to be damaged by the low rating of the school district; and when there is a huge disconnect and ignorance regarding the orgin and purpose of public education. Ultimately Cottingham and all public schools always have belonged to the community and the school board has an obligation to the community not just to teachers and students. Hopefully the school board is being sensitized to this and will fulfill its mandate to act on behalf of the community and will consider reviving this educational landmark and strategically located building. I hope that it will not be just a bunch of offices for non profits but a mix, a place for community education and learning, a place for workshops, art and celebration inviting the whole community in - celebration and education directly to, for, and by the people as in the past.

Anonymous said...

My concern is at this time, given the economic conditions, how can this possibly be sustainable? And, there are so many other non-profits struggling to stay afloat, wouldn't money into this building be ebtter spent on existing programs that already have facilities -- Saints, Boys and Girls Club, etc? Just a few thoughts that frankly I don't need my taxers goign up for yet another public building.

noel jones said...

Anon 8:28--I have heard others express this view as well--and I understand that the prospective buyer is also a nonprofit. Do you have other ideas for a) what should go there, and b) how to get other developers to consider buying the building? It has been sitting vacant for 3 years so far...

I would like to see more comments from neighbors as to what they would like to see there and how they envision making it happen.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


You have hit the nail on the head on all counts.


I disagree with the notion that we should be discussing alternative uses for the building at this point. That theoretical exercise may have value at some point, but the simple fact is that there is a signed contract offer on the table and the school district will be deciding whether or not to accept it.

What we may or may not want to accomplish through acquiring the building is acedemic and amounts to fiddling while Rome burns unless the current deal is not accepted, falls through for some reason or some other person or organization involved with the local community comes up with a better offer before they accept this one.

The issue at hand should be whether we are going to support this offer's acceptance or not. That depends on the legitimacy of the people and the organization presenting it. As I referenced in my post, there are serious red flags surrounding the buyer that require due diligence on the part of the district to assure that the neighborhood is not being saddled with another set of concrete overshoes that will drag us to the bottom.

There are consumer complaints on line regarding this organization's treatment of clients and employees. These can not be verified through typical channels without help from government and may well be just the rants of disgruntled former employees. But there are also legal documents and official reports posted on line that are legitimate reasons for concern including:

Non-payment of taxes and failure to respond to notices in a timely manner in the state of New York, with decision against the buyers by the appelate court.

The attached link from the state of Pa. dealing with the revocation of the buyer's real estate license due to extensive ethics violations.

Another PA. Bulletin notice of previous fines for appraising property without a licence.

I am not in a position to spend all my free time doing the district's job but I have forwarded my findings to the local print media. I did that on the evning of the EASD meeting. I have yet to receive even an acknowledgement that the information was received.

Will we hold the EASD responsible for sane decisions of how to dispose of their public facilities in our neighborhood or not? Will we be at the next meeting to demand due diligence before accepting this offer or not?

Those questions - and not what to do with the building - are the issues right now.


Dennis R. Lieb said...

PS to previous comment...

The state agency responsible for licensing such activities as proposed by the buyer have indicated that there is currently no valid licence in place for this organization. When asked if there would be any issue with them renewing that licence it was deemed to be a decision that would not be made without input from the agency's legal department.


Cathy said...

Dennis and Curt - Thank you for taking the time to do this research and for speaking up on behalf of the community.

Anonymous said...

Dennis and Curt - THANK YOU for taking the time to do all this, research and speaking up on behalf of the community

R. Yorrie said...

It's been several months since this conversation took place on this website. Does anyone know about the outcome of the space?

I realize this may be too late to add, but I lived on the same block as the Gibbs House. The Gibbs House was the house for runaway girls that Jubilee Homes & Supportive Services was responsible for, and the home for which you will read the disgruntled worker comments. After the house went into foreclosure in December 2009, all of the girls were moved out. It was then discovered that the entire first floor was riddled with mold. You cannot stand in the first floor without some sort of rag over your mouth and nose, and you cannot stay in there for more than a few minutes. As per the specialists that the real estate brought in, it seems the septic tank was never cleaned and it backed up into the house. This was all while the girls were living there as there was evidence that people tried to clean it up. Upstairs was also demolished. The character of Rosalyn Hutchings absolutely comes into question when you hear that she made sure every appliance had its plug cut and the refrigerator was left shut with all of the food inside. You can confirm all of this with the Century 21 real estate agent that the home is listed with.

I truly hope, for the sake of the Easton people, that she was not granted the sale of that building.