WOONSOCKET – They say money talks, and with any luck, it will settle the controversy over the worth of the abandoned contents of Woonsocket Middle School in 10 days.
That's when a Boston company will auction off the massive collection of property left behind by the Woonsocket Education Department when the building was turned over to the city.
Personnel from Sullivan & Sullivan Auctioneers is already in the Park Place building sorting the varied inventory in preparation for the auction, said company president Marianne Sullivan.
Most of the bidding will take place in the auditorium, where some of the inventory will be relocated, or displayed in a slide show. In some cases, bidders will move to other locations in the building to vie for unwieldy items such as commercial kitchen equipment.
Potential bidders will be allowed to take escorted tours throughout the building to inspect anything they want beginning two hours before the auction, which begins at 11 a.m. on Dec. 4 said Sullivan.
A grand piano, three uprights, office furniture, microscopes, hundreds of textbooks, whiteboards, ceramic kilns, Crayola pencils in unopened boxes, copying machines, commercial kitchen equipment and power cabinet-making tools are among the varied contents.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine was stunned when he discovered so much material in the building, saying the cash-strapped education department could have saved some of it for use in elementary schools or other buildings. But school officials said most of the items they walked away from were either obsolete or not worth the expense of relocating.
There's no easy way to sum up the smorgasbord of school-related paraphernalia left inside the building. A half-dozen pingpong tables, basketball hoops, a scoreboard, goalie pads, hockey sticks, basketballs, jerseys and other sporting goods – all items seen scattered about two gymnasiums on a recent tour of the building – could be lumped under the single heading of athletic equipment.
Among the more perplexing discoveries were scores of textbooks, many of which looked brand new and showed no signs of ever having been issued to students. School officials said most of the books, however, were out of date. They said they tried to interest a national vendor of used textbooks in the goods, to no avail.
Sullivan said a few books will be on the auction block, but they'll probably be of more interest to collectors of vintage items than educators. Most of the textbooks, she said, “are obsolete.”
In general, Sullivan said it's impossible to predict what the contents of the building will fetch.
“If we knew that we wouldn't need to have an auction,” she said. “The main message here is that we're really trying to help the mayor turn the assets of the building into some revenue for the city.”
Planning Director Joel Mathews said Sullivan & Sullivan was one of three companies that inquired about the job after the city issued an open request for proposals that was authorized by the City Council. Two other companies said they weren't interested after examining the contents of the building, he said.
“We're cautiously hopeful,” said Mathews. “Whatever revenue is generated is something more than what we had. I think the most important thing is that we've made a good faith effort to show that we've tried to dispose of everything that has value.”
Sullivan said the company has purchased space in three Rhode Island newspapers to advertise the auction, which is open to the public. She said she expects professional used-goods merchandisers to be among the bidders, along with others, perhaps, who are looking for little more than a piece of memorabilia from their old alma mater.
Woonsocket Middle School was built roughly a century ago as the city high school. A number of additions were made to the original building, helping give it an awkward, confusing layout that makes navigating the labyrinthine structure unusually time-consuming, if not physically demanding.
The education department formally turned the building over to the city in January after opening the doors to the new $80 million middle school project – twin buildings off Hamlet Avenue. But it wasn't until roughly two months ago that Fontaine said realized the extent of the property that remained in the building – much of it strewn haphazardly about corridors and classrooms.
The city now proposes selling the selling the building to the Stratford Capital Group of Peabody, Mass., for $630,000. The company, which recently signed an agreement to purchase the site, wants to convert it into 84 units of affordable rental property for tenants over 55 years old.
The agreement calls for the company to close on the property by June 30, 2012, but it has until three months before that to terminate the agreement if it is unable to obtain certain financing perks, including federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.
Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik said the agreement does not require the city to remove all the contents of the building before turning it over to Stratford Capital Group – but it wouldn't hurt.
“This is a major Boston area company we're dealing with,” said Wojcik. “The building, in my opinion, should be spotless. You should always put your best foot forward.”