EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

March 28, 2011

Methuen leases building to Islamic school for 25 years

METHUEN — City officials worked out an agreement with The Islamic Academy for Peace in which the academy will keep using the old Oakland Avenue School but will upgrade the building and pay a higher lease.

The city has a new 25-year lease agreement with the school in which the school will pay the city $5,000 per year and spend $325,000 to $350,000 to improve the building at 125 Oakland Ave., said Mayor William Manzi.

The city stopped using the school after new K-8 schools were built. The academy has been leasing the building for about a decade and paying $1 per year.

Attempts to reach Principal Bashir El-Darwish for comment were unsuccessful.

The private school includes pre-K through 8th grade, educates about 137 students and has 18 staff members, according to its website.

Neighbors would object to using the building for anything other than a school because of traffic, plus, the facility saves Methuen taxpayers money because it educates students who would otherwise attend city schools, Manzi said.

City councilors voted 8-1 last week to send a home rule petition to the state Legislature to allow the lease. No members of the public showed up at the public hearing to oppose the plan.

Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo said she toured the school and was "quite impressed."

"The children there were so well-behaved," she said.

Police Capt. Kristopher McCarthy said calls for police service have decreased in that area since the school opened.

Council Chairman Jack Cronin cast the loan vote against the lease. He said he has nothing against the school, he just thought the city should have sold the building to make more money.

"There's a lot of fine people down there, a lot of fine people working there," he said. "It was strictly a decision I made on behalf of the taxpayer."

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