NORTH ADAMS -- If Nathan Drury has any heirs that were interested in challenging the city for the rights to the property on which the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School sits, they're out of luck.
According to an opinion issued by City Solicitor John DeRosa, a 1915 decree issued by the state Supreme Judicial Court not only allowed the transfer of the land from the Drury Academy Trustees to the city, but also eliminated any language that would require the property to be handed over to Nathaniel Drury's heirs should it cease to be used for education for more than a year.
"The language of the deed to the city does not create a fee simple determinable interest in the city, with the possibility of reverter to the heirs," DeRosa wrote. "Rather the deed creates a fee simple absolute interest in the city, in trust to carry out the provisions of the trust; namely, to use the property for educational purposes in perpetuity. Presumably, if that charitable purpose should fail, or if the city were to determine it is no longer able to use the property for educational purposes, the city could pursue a second ‘cy pres' complaint to obtain the approval for change in the type of charitable use of the property."
The opinion, was requested at the City Council's Nov. 27 meeting, after Councilor Jennifer Breen raised the question of f the city should investigate whether the use of the school, over the last three years was enough to keep it in the hands of the city, referring to the section of Drury's will that would revert the land back to his heirs.
Drury, a prosperous farmer from Florida and first president of the Adams State Bank, bequeathed $3,000 to the city in his will in 1840 for the purchase of land and the establishment of an academy "for the instruction of youth in all branches of literature."
He also left numerous instructions in his will, including that the school should always bear his name; that the school should be built of brick and that it must have a marble plaque with a detailed inscription about him on the building. His will also established a board of 13 trustees who would oversee the school and a stipulation that should the school "cease to be so occupied for one year it shall revert to my heirs."
The opinion coincided with Tuesday's City Council meeting at which the council gave initial approval for the borrowing of a $29.69 million bond for the renovation of the former middle school into a K-7 elementary school. The state School Building Authority has agreed to pay 80 percent of the costs, with the city's share being $6.5 million.
DeRosa also addressed the question raised by Breen in his opinion, stating that since 1915, the trust has only required that the property be used "for educational purposes," and despite use of the building as a school ending in 2009, it has continued to be used by the North Adams Public Schools for educational purposes since that time, fitting the broader requirements of the decree.
"The district has continued to use the property for educational purposes consistent with its obligation as a trustee, as mandated by the Supreme Judicial Court decree, and in a manner with the educational purposes of the will," he wrote. "Among other things, the city has continuously maintained its central offices for the administration of the school department on the property, including the offices of the superintendent; has used the property on an ongoing basis for workshops, educational training and professional development seminars, and has recently conducted classes for alternative education on the property."