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:
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.