The town's selectmen said during a meeting Monday night they were in favor in retaining the Academy Street School, rather than selling it, and that they would seek additional public input on the matter during a public hearing Monday, Nov. 19 at 7:15 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall.
The vote followed nine months of work by the Academy Ad Hoc Investigation Committee, which issued a report in September that said the former school building--located next to the town green and the town's historic district, and adjacent to its restaurant and retail district--is an integral part of the town's history.
The committee report also said "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."
"Should be kept as part of our commonwealth"
"I can't see an economic advantage or a planning advantage for disposing of Academy School," said Selectman Joe MacDougald. "I'm very much for keeping it as a municipal space."
Selectman Al Goldberg agreed.
"Academy Street School is part of our town's heritage and I believe that they property should be part of our future," Goldberg said. "It is not to the taxpayer's or citizen's advantage to sell it off. I believe it would be wise for us to reinvest in the property for our future. Once we sell it off, we could never get it back. This should be kept as part of our commonwealth."
"I have come full circle"
Selectman Diane Stadterman said she initially was in favor of selling it to a developer for a use like senior housing.
"I had high hopes for that, until we sat down and looked at the numbers," she said. "I had to change my point of view. As much as I would love to do something for the seniors ... I have come full circle ... and I have come to reevaluate my conclusions. It doesn't make sense for us to sell for an alternative use. It's a town asset and a town treasure."
Selectman Joan Walker also said she initially wanted to keep it. Then she thought it might make more sense to sell it. But then she changed her mind again after reviewing all of the information.
"A tragic loss to sell it"
"So I've done a 360, not a 180," she said. The building's history was one factor, she said. But, that wasn't the only factor in her decision. "The economics are just not there," when it comes to selling it, she said. "It would be a tragic loss for the town to sell it. I'm absolutely in favor of keeping it."
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said he agreed.
He said he didn't think the town would gain that much by selling it. He said getting rid of the fields behind the building was never really a consideration. "We have to post police at the next board meeting if we did that," he said. But, beyond that, he said, it ultimately didn't make much sense to get rid of the building either.
Public hearing will allow for additional public comment
"I don't believe that such a sale would be in the long term interests of the town," he said.
McPherson said the public hearing in November will allow for further comment from the public, both in favor and in opposition, to the board's recommendation.
While the selectmen did not discuss Monday night how they envisioned using the building, the Academy Ad Hoc committee said in its September report that one option might be to "bring town government back to the green:
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.