Easton Area School District Sells Cottingham Building to Developer Abe Atiyeh

EASD Admin Bldg

The  old Cottingham school building on Northampton street used to be the administration building for the Easton Area School District, before they decided to build themselves a new building in Palmer. Ever since, the building has stood idle, a ongoing drain on taxpayer dollars, due to the fact that the building continued to house computer equipment for the district, so the utilities had to be maintained, in addition to other general maintenance costs to keep up the building and the grounds.

When the EASD’s budget fell into crisis with the economic downturn nationwide, and the district eventually put the building up for sale, a debate ensued as to whether to 1) sell the building as soon as possible to bring in revenue and eliminate the ongoing expense of keeping the building, 2) rent out space in the building to tenants to cover the expense of the building and bring in revenue, or 3) turn it into a hub for local community-related nonprofits.

The building became the subject of additional controversy when then Asst. to the Superintendent, Joe Kish, subverted the will (and the vote) of the elected school board and refused to pull the building off the market. This was one in a long list of indiscretions making Kish the subject of controversy at the time.

school building development economic preservation community EASD

The old Cottingham School on Northampton Street back in the day…

Rep. Bob Freeman came to the aid of residents in the community who wished to see the building fixed up and rented out to local nonprofits to facilitate more cooperation between organizations in town who are notoriously always at war in the backdrop of Easton’s political scene (while this was a well-intentioned idea, I doubt that sharing a building would have bridged the bad blood between Easton’s nonprofits in their never-ending piranha frenzy over dwindling federal, state and local grant monies). In the end, although he was able to secure funding for a study by architect Steve Glickman to determine costs of renovation and potential mixed use for the building, Rep. Freeman was unable to secure all of the funding for the project, as there is a similar feeding frenzy taking place at the state level over shrinking pots of grant money.

Local business owners I talked with at the time, favored seeing the building developed into private businesses that would bring commerce to that swathe of Easton’s lowest-income neighborhood, the West Ward (and acknowledged that a mixed-use building housing both businesses and nonprofits might work as well). The idea was that customers coming to the building to shop or do business would likely spread collateral spending to other nearby businesses, and that it might help revitalize the neighborhood.

Developer Abe Atiyeh himself is as notorious as they come in the Lehigh Valley, inspiring controversy wherever he proposes to develop next. He battled last year with Bethlehem residents who didn’t want him to build a treatment facility for addicts in the community (being that residents of Easton’s West Ward have been living with an ever-expanding county jail in the heart of their neighborhood for years, no one in Easton was playing the violin for Bethlehem with the the NIMBYs on that one). Atiyeh has now purchased the Cottingham building and proposes to rent office space to engineers and architects, according to Peter Panepinto’s article in the Express-Times.

While it is certain that this decision by the school district has not made the resident consortium in favor of a community center happy, it remains to be seen whether the offices of architects and engineers draws the kind of “commerce” that other local business owners were hoping for.

One thing is certain–the new school board, in its struggle to wrestle its budget behemoth into submission, has succeeded in getting rid of a nagging line item and bringing in a little revenue.

I welcome thoughts from the community all on all sides of this issue. Please take the poll:

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4 Responses

  1. don’t know because purchasers claim they are going to do all sorts of nice things but then later reform supposedly to due unforeseen circumstances and the neighborhood ends up with something else.

    There was suppose to be a diner coming at the foot of locust street and now it appears to be another beer distributor.

  2. Noel:

    Lots of talk about Joe Kish; however why not mention how current board member Kerry Ellison voted to reject a $350,000 cash offer on this building while serving on the prior board only now to vote to sell to someone who will no doubt turn this parcel into the next Lehigh Valley Charter School? That decision cost the district and taxpayers $150,000!

    • Rifleman–if you’d care to elaborate, please do, but no single board member has the power to vote down or pass anything–why are you so interested in singling out Ellison?

      The word going around at the time of the first offer, if I remember correctly, was that the proposed developer was a bit shady a had a bad reputation from past development in terms of fiscal responsibility, and responsibility to the community.

      If anyone else would like to fill readers in with more details on that decision, please do.

      As for why I single out Kish–the man is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in racial discrimination settlements to be paid by the EASD, among a laundry list of other issues that have been documented on this blog over the last few years. Just search on “Kish” and you’ll see why I think he continues to deserve special attention, considering struggling taxpayers will be paying his fat pension for the rest of his comfy life.

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