Syracuse schools defend controversial lease

The former Syracuse Developmental Center building

Syracuse City School District officials were questioned Wednesday by members of the Common Council over a proposed agreement to lease space at the former Syracuse Developmental Center.

School Superintendent Dan Lowengard defended the agreement with a private developer in which the school district would lease the facility for 15 years at a cost of $28 million. The district says it needs the buildings as "swing space" for students who would be temporarily displaced by the large scale project to renovate city school buildings.

Lowengard told councilors he "struck a good deal" with Health Consortium USA in part because the State Education Department would pay $1.7 million of the annual rental costs. Lowengard said he looked at other buildings for swing space, but the former developmental center was the only place capable of handling up to 1,500 students at a time.

Syracuse Corporation Council Juanita Perez Williams said the Miner administration was taken by surprise by the lease agreement. She questioned whether it was a good deal for students and wanted a written guarantee that the State Education Department would pay for most of the lease costs.

Mary Carello, whose child attends H.W.Smith Elementary presented councilors with a statement signed by a number of parents opposed to lease agreement.

Councilors refused to say when they would vote on the proposed lease. Lowengard says he's afraid the developers could back out of the deal.