After more than a century as Belleville's first public school, school officials confirmed that demolition began for the school, located on a block of Cortlandt and Rutgers streets.
The Belleville Township Council named a company in April to redevelop the underutilized former School No. 1 property, the last major step toward the building’s demolition, even as a small but vocal minority's has continued warnings that the site is needed for after school recreation or that the school district may need the property down the line.
Riefolo Construction Company, Inc. located at 12 Railroad Pl. in Belleville was tapped to redevelop the property that had stored school buses and been used by police and recreation employees in the past decade.
The property was designated as an area in need of redevelopment in 2011.
Despite angry criticism from a few residents demanding more recreation and the possible need for school space for children, Belleville officials have approved a move that could instead bring condominiums or low-income apartments to the existing one-square-block.
The property at the corner of Cortland and Rutgers streets was considered for proposals to redevelop the property, and the council accepted requests for proposals, or RFPs.
All along, residents, including Vincent Frantantoni, David Harris and Phyllis Frantantoni all called for the property to be used for recreation.
Vincent Frantantoni has that the kind of redevelopment proposed transfers tax dollars to developers, attorneys and consultants, and claimed the building can be repaired.
He has also said the property may be needed for use as an elementary school if student population increases in the future.
Councilman Michael Nicosia has told concerned residents that the plan allows for residential housing as one possibility, but also allows the council to negotiate for storage area and recreational space, among many possibilities, in any new development at the site.
Residents and township council members have clashed about whether to redevelop the land, to convert the property for use as recreation space or to repair the school and surrounding property for various school uses, including recreation.
In May 2012, the council voted 7 to 0 to pass a redevelopment plan for the nearly one square city block of property.
The plan allows for dense residential use, but council officials have been quick to point out the plan gives the governing body the greatest number of options for the property.
Several residents have also spoken of the need to retain the school property for possible use by the Board of Education, if school populations increase in the future.
The redevelopment plan would allow for at least 30 housing units, and residents complained that there would not be enough parking if the council agreed to allow residential housing.
Harris and Phyllis Frantantoni have said that children do not have after school activities and the site should be used for recreation.
The details of the deal with Riefolo have not yet been verified, but published reports say the company may offer as much as $1 million and may look to build 60 units with 120 parking spaces.
Council members would not verify those numbers.