Schools / Kids

Orange Board of Ed Is Purchasing Marylawn Academy in South Orange

Correction: Board of Education Beth Daugherty did not say that the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education decided to pass on the Marylawn property, as previously reported. Daugherty said that the BOE looked at the property but found out it was under contract.

The Orange Board of Education is in the process of purchasing the Marylawn of the Oranges Academy property on Scotland Road in South Orange, with plans to turn the property into a STEM academy.

Last year, a plan by Seton Hall University to purchase the property and turn it into a medical school campus fell through during Planning Board review and amidst objections by neighbors.

Although a call to Orange Public Schools has not yet been returned, that school district’s interest in the Marylawn property is clearly indicated in the Orange Board of Education Strategic Plan 2014-2021 released in 2014. Village Green is reaching out to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, which owned and operated Marylawn; a call to the Sisters on Tuesday morning had not yet been returned at the time of publication.

However, leaders of South Orange Village and the South Orange-Maplewood School District and South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education have indicated knowledge of the deal.

Village Administrator Barry Lewis confirms that the Village of South Orange was informed of the deal several months ago: “We were advised that the City of Orange Board of Education had a contract to purchase the Marylawn property and their plan was to move/create a Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) school at the location. I understand it would be an expansion of an existing school they currently operate in a leased former church school in Orange.” Lewis said that the Orange BOE was was “undergoing their due diligence” on the property at that time. Lewis said he had not heard from the Orange Board of Education since and would be following up shortly.

Lewis also clarified that the Board indicated the contract was for “the entire site, school, mansion, [and] tennis courts.”

Village Trustee Mark Rosner confirmed Lewis’ information and added, “Orange has told us they would get back to us when they were better prepared to discuss the purchase.”

The Orange Board of Education Strategic Plan references the intent to create the STEM academy on page 6 under “Objective 1: By the year 2021, Orange Public School students will achieve academic proficiency in 21st Century skills, readying them for college and career.” Item E of Objective 1 is “20% of the high school age population will be enrolled in the STEM Academy.”

On page 86, the strategic plan calls for the Orange Board of Education to “Contract and finalize lease of Marylawn School Building for a new STEM High School.” Elsewhere the plan further describes the program: “Create a STEM Academy for secondary students and post-secondary students. Grades 9 and 10 will include core instruction. Grades 11-12 include personalized instruction for future specific courses and off-site internships/ventures. Grades 13 and 14 will be taught in conjunction with a college/university, allowing students to complete their AA.”

South Orange-Maplewood School District and Board of Education members have also been in touch with the Orange Board of Education regarding the purchase and plans for the STEM academy.

Board member Beth Daugherty reported that the South Orange-Maplewood Board looked at the property, but found that it was quickly reported to be under contract: “In early 2015, the Finance, Facilities and Technology committee briefly looked into the Marylawn property when the purchase of that property by Seton Hall University fell through in the fall of 2014. The asking price was $8,500,000 for the school, former convent and surrounding property. According to the realtor, the property was under contract with another entity by the end of February.”

During his tenure as acting superintendent James Memoli said he became aware of Orange’s plans for the building last year when the superintendent of the Orange Public Schools made a remark about it at the Essex County Superintendents Roundtable. However, Memoli said he had no formal discussions with Orange subsequent to that meeting.

District Spokeswoman Suzanne Turner reported that current South Orange-Maplewood School District Superintendent Dr. John Ramos has spoken with the Orange superintendent of schools: “The project does seem to be going forward, and we are working cooperatively with them. No details are currently available on whether or not SOMSD students will be able to participate, and (if so) under what terms.” Turner said that the district would keep the public updated going forward.

Seton Hall University withdrew a pending use variance application for Marylawn in October 2014 after four Planning Board hearings — with more scheduled, as well as meetings with the South Orange Historic Preservation Commission concerning the rehabilitation of the Graves House. Neighbors had also expressed concerns about traffic and parking.

The university was seeking variances that would have allowed it to buy and convert the Marylawn of the Oranges Academy and the Graves House at Scotland Road and Montrose Avenue into academic and administrative buildings for a graduate school of medicine and construct a 202-space parking lot. Sale of the property to Seton Hall was contingent upon obtaining the variance.

After the Seton Hall sale fell through, the South Orange tax assessor determined that the Marylawn site should be returned to the South Orange tax rolls in South Orange as of January 1, 2015; however, the Sister of Charity of Saint Elizabeth appealed the decision. Since the case is not yet settled, no taxes have been paid on the property. Should the property continue as a school, it will continue to be tax exempt.

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