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Academy School. Keep It? Sell It? [Poll]

Here's some information gathered by some community volunteers. What do you think? We'll ask you now and we'll ask again after a public meeting on the topic scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at Memorial Town Hall.

 

When deciding the future of the Academy School Building, it's important for people to look back at its past, says David Kadamus, a community volunteer who is chairman of the town's Academy Ad Hoc Investigation Committee.

The committee in charge of evaluating the options for the future of the school--which also includes Joe Beerbower, Matt Callahan, Kathy Rossini and Jon Pardo--has been meeting for about eight months now. Kadamus said it's time for to make the first decision that has to be made before the future of the facility can be determined.

"The core question is should the town retain it or sell it," he said while providing an update on the committee's work at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting.

Looking at 300 years of history

Kadamus said the committee's recommendation will be informed by their research, by public input, and also by the history of the building, and the history of that part of town.

"We're looking at about 300 years of history," he said.

In the early 1800's, the part of town where the old Academy School building is located was a swamp. Some houses started to go up, some land was filled in, some houses were removed, and then the Lee Academy building was relocated to the location nearby from Neck Road. A store, along with a chapel, and some town offices were added nearby.

The concept of church, school, and government

The report submitted by the committee says:

So in the mid 1800’s, the church and the green in its current profile were in place. From the Green heading east, the Lee Academy, P.P Coes General Store, another chapel and the Town Clerks Office were in place and the concept of church, school and government existed. The next major expansion of the common area east was in 1884, when the Hand Consolidated School was completed. To make way for the building, the Lee Academy was moved to its current location. The building was built by Daniel Hand and presented to the town to serve as a school. In 1921 the building was demolished and rebuilt from the original bricks. In 1936 four classrooms and a gymnasium were added. In 1894, the plans for creation of Memorial Town Hall began. The site for the hall, after much discussion, was settled by James R. Meigs when he purchased the store of Philander Coe and moved it east on the Post Road (to the location currently opposite the fire station). The store was the “People’s Store” until 1946 when it was raised to give place to Rocca’s Colonial Restaurant. To build the hall in its present location Lee Academy was again moved.

"A consistent movement for nearly 300 years to protect and expand Madison's town green"

The report says that an examination of the history of the area "illustrates a consistent movement for nearly 300 years to protect and expand Madison's Town Green."

Over the years, the green has grown by the removal of the Sabbath Day Houses, the creation of a formal Green, donation of the Hand Consolidated School by Daniel Hand to the town, and the purchase and relocation of the People’s Store by James Meigs to build the Memorial Town Hall. This trend continued into the 1920’s to 1940 when the growth of the Town required more town office space and larger schools.

The building has about 58,000 gross square feet and about 53,500 useable square feet. Studies show that it will take about $5.7 million to repair the building systems, and $2.4 million to repair the interior spaces. The last appraisal for the building was $4.4 million and for the land was $900,000, for a total of $5.3 million.

Several options under consideration, all of them predicated on sell or keep

At an earlier public meeting, the committee heard several members of the public speak in favor of senior housing, and the building may be able to accommodate about 15 to 17 units of senior housing, Kadamus said. Another option discussed was luxury housing or apartments.

Yet another option would be moving the Madison town offices there, he said. And another option would be an extended use lease with the town putting out an RFP, Kadamus said. He noted that the Shoreline Arts Alliance has approached the group expressing interest in such an arrangement.

The option of relocating or expanding the library to Academy School was discussed, but Kadamus said that dropped off the list when it became clear that it wouldn't necessarily be economical and that it would create programmatic difficulties.

Most viable and least viable

Kadamus said he and other committee members are looking forward to hearing more from the public. He also said the committee has grouped possible alternatives into "most viable" and "least viable."

Possibilities that are "most viable" include an extended use lease, higher priced housing, and use by the town. Those among the "least viable" at this point include the library, and moderately priced housing. In order for a developer to turn it into housing, he said, that developer would have to generate an economic payback, which does not seem likely with moderately priced housing, he said.

One of the most striking findings, Kadamus said, is that--when it comes to keep or sell--"the economics are not glaringly obvious either way."

Less than a penny to each budget dollar

This is what the report has to say about those economics:

What has struck the Committee though, is the true economic impact of these options. The Committee estimates that the potential tax revenue would range from approximately $100 thousand to $500 thousand (excluding the added value from development of the Town Campus). At the high end, the best economic option would only generate less than 0.7% (seven tenths of one percent) impact to the Town budget. In other words, the best option would create an offset of less than a penny to each budget dollar.

"So that brings us back to a core question," Kadamus said. "Does selling the property or keeping the property make the best sense."

"What if you moved town government back to the green?"

He then added, "what if you moved town government back to the green?"

Again, from the report:

ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE

Given the historical review and significance of the Academy School site to the Madison Town Green, the Committee also assembled an alternative option that takes a long-term view of the Town needs, history, and vision of the downtown area. Madison will be celebrating its bicentennial in 2026. Over these next 14 years, there is the time to have a paced plan implemented that sets forth a vision of the future that honors the past for the Town Green’s original design intents – “on the common was usually to be seen a church, a school, and a town hall.” It is also interesting to note that Col. Vincent M. Wilcox, who was a generous contributor to the Memorial Hall Fund, had “wished the memorial to be a monument, feeling, perhaps that a monument retains its identity while a building becomes in time, just another building.”


The alternative would be to adopt a long-term plan to:


1.    Bring Town government back to the Green in a renovated Academy Building. This would provide the additional town office space that is now needed. It would also bring an economic stimulus to the downtown business district.
2.    Renovate the gymnasium for recreation, wellness and learning. This concept also ties in nicely with the recently completed senior center on Bradley Road. This renovation also limits the growth of government space to less than 2/3rds of the building
3.    Restore Memorial Town Hall to its original grandeur, a monument to those who have served our country and a fitting memorial to 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan
4.    Develop the Town Campus for mixed housing for seniors, and higher priced housing. This site could also be evaluated for the commercial / clean industry value.


If the concept of moving the Town Campus to Academy and redeveloping the Town campus is considered, a feasibility study for the development of the Town Campus will need to be completed. We suspect that mixed middle and higher income housing would generate 120 to 150 units and tax revenues well over $1 million. A clean industry impact is not known, but also should be evaluated. Additionally, the costs of renovating Memorial Town Hall would need to be estimated. The goal in the plan would be to have the revenue from the sale of the Town Campus and subsequent tax revenue exceed the costs of the move, renovation of Academy, and the renovation of Memorial Town Hall.

"We're inside the 20"

Kadamus said he's looking forward to a productive conversation about the topic on Sept. 25th and said he anticipates people in town will have strong feelings about what should be done with the building, since the time to make a decision is near.

"We're inside the 20," he said at the Board of Selectmen meeting. "This is where some of the hard slugging will start."

After the meeting on Sept. 25th, Kadamus said, committee members will meet with the Board of Selectmen, then perhaps schedule another public session in October.

Gus R. Horvath September 12, 2012 at 11:28 PM
For those of you who may not know about perevious studies relating to this building, please visit the Town we site (www.madisonct.org) and scroll to the bottom of the page. The Committees web site is lited on the lower right. There are copies of an early 2000s study of adding to and renovating the building for school use. I suggest doubling the cost to bring them in line with today's. Our 205,000 sq, ft. high school (2003) cost $44,000,000 and the new Guilfod 215,000 high school is estimated to cost $98,000,000. The second study is just a couple of years old. You should especially read the "market study". I will not comment on the historical power point presentation.
Matt September 12, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Sell it. There is absolutely nothing this town needs that would justify the tens of millions of dollars it would cost the taxpayers to keep this property and use it for something else. The seniors have a massive new palace. The bird people have their massive useless vacant lot. The current town hall is modern and perfectly fine where it is. The library is underutilized and perfectly fine where it is. Turing it into any kind of taxpayer funded [insert pet project here] would be a borderline criminal waste of our money. It is called fraud, waste, and abuse in government speak. It needs to be sold to a developer to build/renovate whatever they see fit to develop.
Christopher Jennings Penders September 12, 2012 at 11:52 PM
I for one WOULD LOVE to see Town Government move back downtown. We're all lamenting the fact that business is down in the downtown district. Imagine town officials back close enough to walk to the shopping district. Lunch counters would be busier; perhaps business would pick up incrementally. I THINK it would be easier for people to access town buildings close to the shopping district. If we're all downtown anyway, it just makes sense to walk over to the green to get any official business done. I for one was VERY disappointed when town hall moved away from downtown. From a purely selfish perspective, I find it VERY difficult to pull out of Town Campus onto Hammonasset Connector. Living in the southern end of town, I was SOOOO happy when Madison moved the voting away from Town Campus. Just my opinion. -- Christopher Jennings Penders
Nicole Clarkson September 13, 2012 at 02:29 AM
I know the library cannot be housed at Academy School, and I'm glad to have the library stay in its original location. However, your assertion that the library is underutilized is way off base. People are always using the library: program attendance is at an all time high, circulation is growing, the e-book program is expanding, reference questions are constantly being answered, etc. In a town where we pay to use town beaches, where we pay for garbage and recycling pickup, where we pay to use the town beaches, the library is one of the best assets of living in Madison.
Nicole Clarkson September 13, 2012 at 02:30 AM
sorry, meant to write town beaches and town gym....
Randy Howe September 13, 2012 at 10:40 AM
Gov't moves downtown and a town pool is constructed at Town Campus...
Richard September 13, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Market rate housing is the best option (be it luxury or "non-luxury". Please do not spend an additional penny of OUR tax dollars on this project. The Griswold property was the final straw for many residents....recouping Academy as a tax producing entity will go along way in addressing the terrible decision that was made to purchase the former Airport.
Janet September 13, 2012 at 11:59 AM
This is prime real estate, walking distance to train and town. We need to attract younger residents to town, so tastefully done apartments by a developer would be a great asset to our economy and our tax base. We cannot afford another $10Mm + project to burden our property owners which ultimately negatively effects our property values. Moving town campus has no value to the people of Madison and will be a major tax burden.
John Brady September 13, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Agree with Janet. Many people would be happy to have a nice apartment within walking distance of downtown. Luxury apartments could appeal to people of all ages, particularly if on one floor or with elevator access, and provide welcome addition to tax revenues. Doesn't necessarily have to be a sale of the property though - could consider 100 year lease - giving future options for town but long enough for developer.
Janet September 13, 2012 at 12:07 PM
And use the proceeds to pay down our debts on the senior center and the bird land.
Janet September 13, 2012 at 12:18 PM
And this mathematics by Kadamus about minimal impact to town budget is misleading... This is the same math they used to get people to buy the bird land. You need to responsibly look at what's best for the town and the taxpayers and one penny of every dollar adds up, when you pile project after project on our backs.
Matt September 13, 2012 at 01:06 PM
John, I have two concerns with a long term lease strategy: 1) Are we going to get ripped off by some backdoor under the table joke like the grassy strip at West Wharf? Our town leaders have consistently failed to represent the taxpayer's fiscal best interest Instead they represent whatever special interest has latched onto them at the time (West Wharf, Griswold, the senior palace, etc). Logic has been absent from so many decisions, I have a hard time trusting them to all of a sudden strike a good deal. 2) Liability. If we own the land, we own the problems. Waivers and agreements don't mean anything, they're just paper with words on them. If someone wants to sue over something that happened on the property, they're going to go for the deepest pockets. That won't be a developer or a resident. It will be the town. On the surface, a long term lease appears to give us the financial gain of off-loading the property to a developer, and the sentimental aspect of it still belonging to the town. But once you dig below the surface, it might not looks to so pretty.
Native- not townie September 13, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I agree I was a resident here (maybe college student) when that decision was made and was surprized by it. Town Campus was a High School, "The Hammonassett School". With all the discussions about schools in this town, I was shocked that they acquired it and refashioned it for gov't-. After getting involved in town organiziations, I must admit that Memorial Town Hall is much smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside.
Ann Nyberg September 13, 2012 at 02:30 PM
This was once the high school in Madison, Connecticut and a theater too, it is in the center of town and I loved it that my oldest daughter got to go to school there, now what to do with it, I think mixed space, living, working, playing and a big ole piazza in the back where the playground was. This building was on of the reasons I moved to town in the first place, it's charm and it's proximity to town, i love the old place.
Jon September 13, 2012 at 02:36 PM
SELL IT!!!!!!!!! This town cannot afford any more fiscal stupidity. SELL SELL SELL. SELL ACADEMY SCHOOL. As it is residents are already choking on the purchase of the airport property.
Jon September 13, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Agreed. SELL IT! It is the same math used in the Big Dig in Boston. The unions killed the taxpayers because of a lack of fiscal common sense. Something that is revenue generating should be put at the airport, to pay off the debt to homeowners and business owners that pay taxes. After the debt is paid off the positive cash flow can be applied to the ever growing spending this towns has problems with.
Jon September 13, 2012 at 02:42 PM
and who flips the bill? Taxpayers are tired of the lack of fiscal common sense. Projects that generate positive cash flow are needed, not capital whores who keep spending.
Native- not townie September 13, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Without strategically planning out the Madison's blueprints, ...dare I say, I'd rather sell the Town Campus and move town offices, FOMY-Friends of Madison Youth (Arts Barn), public access TV, and etc downtown. Madison Y&Fam. is here and work with the FOMY so much. Developers may have more inspiration over by the connector, and that is still close to train and highway.
Ann September 13, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Betsy, I think you have the best idea. Bring everyone back downtown and sell for development the town campus property. We might even be able to influence the type of development in the direction of something we're missing, like a pool/ hockey rink (big money makers, given the number of private swim clubs around here that pay top dollar to host meets from September through July and bring lots of people to the town eateries and other stores during the dreary Winter months). A reasonably priced, nice hotel, right off the high way. Will also bring people to our downtown and provide a location for Winter month social events without adding to traffic on the eastern part of town. You could regularly fill it with people coming to town for soccer tournaments, swim or hockey events, or business anywhere from Old Saybrook to New Haven
Janet September 13, 2012 at 07:44 PM
We have a nice big empty park already if you want to construct a town pool...
Cathy Marsh September 13, 2012 at 07:51 PM
@Ann--no more hotels! That can of worms was started once before! A Canadian group pulled out of building two ice rinks on 7 acres @ Brewers Pilot's Point--- now the Brewers is trying to develope a housing commty. Canadian Group could not get ROI? While Academy holds special memories for me, I have to think with my head and not heart. I think the building, sadly is beyond renovation ($$$). The sunny windows and coatrooms were great but the stairwells scared the life out of me as we students races up and down. Sell it! Perhaps developers could save and incorporate the facade into a design. Brown school with its open classroom concept and poor air flow was a disaster. The old police station was never expandable, the old Senior Depot with the caboose behind it was a small stupid space for aging Seniors. When we might have used the Hammonassett School for an elementary school they chose not to. And now Constitution Park! Those who forget Madison's history of "building wrong" --- like the ceiling in the brand new Senior Center -- are condemned to repeat it! Mr. Daniel Hand has his name on the new school and on a beautiful stone in the Hammonassett Cemetary. Let's consider quality affordable housing, preferably for Seniors who might be able to walk,utilize our churches, the ALH, the new Senior Hall and stay mobile waking to town/participating in events on the Town Green. keep the existing playground as that facilitates multigenerational contact.
Ann September 13, 2012 at 08:19 PM
I believe the return on investment is much higher when you do a joint facility of a pool and a rink because of joint operational costs. I think cooling the rink can heat the pool. That's based mostly on conversations I had years ago with Tom Merritt, from Madison, who designed and supervised construction at Old Lyme Country club pool before becoming the aquatics director. I suggested the hotel simply because we're still lacking one for the average family to stay in...that doesn't cost $450 a night. I'm not at all suggesting that we should fund any of this. Just put them out there as options to find a developer who will give us a good price for the town campus property. And if we put the town campus staff and other groups in academy I imagine we should have no investment. However, if we put academy up for sale, it will probably include the adjacent green property (ballfield), and I've heard that the best way to get a good ROI on that total package is to also build on top of the field, which would seem to drastically take away from the character of that part of the downtown. A long way from an open air piazza!
Matt September 13, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Keeping with the recurring theme of "will this town repeat it's past mistakes yet again"... Here's another prediction on how moving town government to academy and developing the campus will pan out... The same bird braintrust that prevented development of Griswold will do the same thing at the campus. Any grand plans for income generating development will be summarily destroyed. After all, it is adjacent to the river. There are birds and squirrels in the area. Etc etc. And as usual, our town leaders will go along with whatever they say, launch a campaign of lies, and trick the public into voting for it. We'll pay 100 million dollars to renovate Academy and move town government there, then get zero ROI from the campus. This is how it always goes. I have no reason to believe it won't happen again. Unless we get some responsible leadership in town hall with an intact spinal column, this grand plan of developing the campus will never work. Mark my word.
Janet September 13, 2012 at 11:55 PM
It does not make sense to me why anyone would consider moving the town offices. You have prime real estate on the green, walking distance to the train, very appealing for a developer it seems. You have to pay tens of millions to repair and renovate Academy for ANY town use. Then you have to put town campus up for sale. There seems to be a lot wrong with that picture.

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