Bensalem School Board rejects offers for Armstrong, seeks collaboration with township

Bensalem’s Neil Armstrong Middle School property has been mostly vacant for the past decade, and will continue to be, at least into the immediate future.

Last Wednesday, the Bensalem School Board unanimously decided to reject all standing bids for the 30-acre property on Street Road, essentially hitting the reset button on the sale process.

The property was most recently appraised to be worth just over $6 million. Previously, the board received a pair of offers north of $8 million, but one developer backed out and the other decreased the original offer to $4 million with contingencies, allegedly based on feedback from the township regarding zoning.

Currently, the property is zoned residential for single homes, which is not likely an ideal situation for developers looking to maximize their investments.

“Mixed use seems to have the most interest in the market,” Superintendent Sam Lee said after the meeting. “We will collaborate ultimately to find the best interest of the school district and the township.”

The zoning for a property is not up to the school district — it falls under the jurisdiction of Bensalem council members, who can vote to rezone a property for development. However, Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo has previously expressed specific sentiments about what should be there.

During a meeting of Bensalem business owners in January, DiGirolamo said that Bensalem will not allow any more apartments in the heart of the township, adding that 42 percent of township residents already live in apartments. The mayor also mentioned that he does not want to see another shopping center on Street Road.

“We don’t have a lot of land left,” DiGirolamo said. “It’s not restrictions. We’re trying to make suggestions.”

The township has a process for land development, and it is unclear whether the school district made that known to interested developers.

“There was some confusion, but I think it will work out for all parties,” Board member Marc Cohen said. “I think it’s all going to get done and it will get sold.”

In order to move forward with the sale, collaboration between the township and school board is key to get an offer above the appraised value. Only offers above or near the appraisal will be accepted by the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas when a deal is in place, officials said.

“The offer we rejected tonight was basically a cash and carry,” Board member Rev. Jason Harris said. “The court would never accept an offer south of the appraised value.”

The $6 million appraisal is believed to be market value, but that estimate assumes a rezoning to mixed use. Township council will not likely rezone to make the property a free-for-all, but compromise is possible.

“Whoever purchases the property would have to have all their ducks in a row,” Harris added, suggesting that there would have to be a discussion with both the school board and township council to make sure the zoning situation is agreeable.

Officials say that getting Armstrong off the district’s tax rolls would save the district roughly $100,000. With the proceeds from the sale, Bensalem School District could either pay down the debt on an existing building, which it doesn’t have, or place it in the capital improvement fund for district-wide repairs.  

“There is frustration, but we all need to work together in the community,” Harris said. “We have to make sure we have the right people at the table to agree on how this land should be used.”

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