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The Madison Board of Selectmen is ready to present different options for development of the former Academy School to the public in February. (Photo by Zoe Roos/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Shuttered and disintegrating, Academy School has been sitting vacant on the Madison Town Green, and a source of regular debate, for more than a decade. After soliciting public input and project proposals over the course of 2017, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) now has a series of proposals to bring to the public for consideration in the coming weeks.
If the five proposals, the vision of developers qualified to complete the project, are a predictor of what will come to the Academy site, downtown Madison is going to gain between 24 and 79 new housing units and possibly retain some community and recreation. One-time proposed purchase payments top out at $1.2 million.
When consulting firm Colliers Internation presented the development proposals to the BOS on Jan. 18, there were five proposals on the table. However, one of the proposals, from a firm called Pennrose, was incomplete upon submission. The Academy Steering Committee let it stand for the initial presentation so that the BOS could see everything that came in, but at the BOS meeting on Jan. 22, the board unanimously voted to remove the proposal from consideration.
Marc Sklenka of Colliers International said there is one overarching theme to all of the proposals.
“What you are going to hear a lot is residential,” he said. “The heavy proposed use for this building is residential. There is a mixed-use component with some of them, but overwhelming the developers saw this as a really attractive real estate residential parcel.”
Dakota Partners, Inc.: Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, Dakota Partners proposed a phased development that includes 79 housing units—a mix of condominiums and townhouses to be built on the five acres available in the Academy parcel.
For the existing school building, the proposal includes ideas for a café, community space, and some sort of fitness space. The purchase price is $1 million.
Greylock Property Group: Greylock, based in Mystic, proposed a phased-in, mixed-use development that includes 24 units of upscale housing as well as some affordable housing. For the Academy building, the proposal includes space for a community arts collaborative, co-working space, an outdoor community space, and the proposal also includes roof gardens.
In this design, the townhome structures would be built closer to Bradley Road, creating a “new Academy Green” between the old school and the new homes, which would still be owned by the town. The purchase price is $1.2 million.
RAL Development Services: RAL, based in New York, New York, proposed a phased development of 44 units—a mix of condominiums, apartments, and townhouses.
The purchase price is $150,000 and the group proposed a revenue sharing option with the town for sales over $700 per square foot.
Women’s Institute-Hope Partnership: The Middletown- based Women’s Institute-Hope Partnership proposed 29 one- and two-bedroom apartments to be built on the land behind Academy. The proposal indicated the development would be geared for a mixed-income community.
The proposal also includes space for community use and arts as well as open and recreational space, including tennis courts and gardens. The firm proposed a nominal fee ground lease option.
Pennrose: The Boston-based firm Pennrose proposed a phased development of 80 to 120 mixed rate rental units, some at market price and some affordable, spread throughout low- and mid-rise townhouses.
The proposal includes some retail and civic use, but did not propose anything for the 1921 Academy building; all of the plan focused on the currently undeveloped portion of the Academy property.
Because the proposal did not meet the requirements of the request for proposals (RFP), at the BOS meeting on Jan. 23, Banisch asked that the board remove the proposal from consideration by the public.
“Pennrose submitted a proposal that did not include Academy School. They only wanted to deal with the fields,” he said. “I think the primary purpose of this is to bring resolution to the Academy School building, so I think it’s inappropriate for us to consider a proposal that doesn’t do that.”
The board unanimously agreed with the suggestion and voted to remove the proposal.
In the past year, after the plan to have the Shoreline Arts Alliance (SAA) transform the school into a cultural arts center fell apart in summer 2016, the town ramped up the investigations into a new use for Academy School. The BOS hired an outside consulting firm, Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc. (FHI), to conduct an online survey, stakeholder meetings, and public meetings to get a better sense of what residents want to see happen to the building and what possibilities are feasible.
The town, with the help of consultant Colliers International, began the process in early September with the request for qualifications (RFQ), allowing parties to express interest in the building and pass tests such as a credit check and development history, before moving on to the RFP, where RFQ-approved parties could submit specific project proposals. The town received 10 RFQs on the building.
All 10 parties—including companies based locally to developers who have worked across the world—who responded to the RFQ were invited to submit an RFP, due on Dec. 18, 2017. Tthe committee then had five proposals to put forward to the public.
All five proposals were presented to the BOS on Jan. 18. Sklenka reviewed the proposals with the board as well as the process used up to this point.
When the RFP went out, potential developers were provided a packet including existing building information like the floor plan, conditions assessment, hazmat survey, and market reconnaissance study. In addition to the details of the building, the developers were also given a list of priorities distilled from the workshop meeting that included the need to maintain some level of open space and the playground, maintain the shell of the 1921 building, zoning regulations, and a desire for mixed use. Sklenka said in picking a developer, the primary objective is to find someone the town can partner with on this project and not just turn the building over. He said whatever happens to Academy needs to benefit the taxpayers and developers have been made aware that residents will have a say in this process.
“Having options made available to residents is going to be important because we want to hear from the town on what they think makes the most sense,” he said. “We want to let people have a voice in the process.”
What Happens Next
With the proposals in hand, on Jan. 22 the board approved a schedule of meetings to present the proposals to the public. The first two meetings are slated for Monday, Feb. 12 and Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. at Walter C. Polson Middle School. Over those two workshop meetings, each developer will have 30 minutes to present his or her proposal in much more detail to the public and 30 minutes for Q&A. Following the presentations, on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at Polson Middle School, the town will hold a public information session to get feedback from residents and discuss the financial qualifications of the developers.
The rapid pace of the meetings concerned some members of the board. At the initial Colliers presentation, Banisch said he would like to see the Academy School proposal end up on the May budget referendum ballot. Selectman Al Goldberg said he thought that might be forcing the process along too quickly.
“This seems like a very aggressive schedule for a project of this size,” he said. “As I understand it you would like to have this ready for the budget referendum in May and that is what’s driving this aggressive schedule.”
Banisch said if possible it would be nice to get the question on the budget ballot because it would save the town money and move the process along.
“I think we have been talking about this for a year and a half, so if possible and we can get it onto the budget referendum, that would be great,” he said. “I am not going to push it so fast that we are missing any steps along the way, but I think what we are doing is we are giving people opportunities, while things are still fresh in their minds, to hear from the developers and then come and talk about it in the public meeting.”
In addition to the meetings, Director of Planning and Economic Development David Anderson said hard copies of the proposals will be available at Town Campus and the library and digital versions will be uploaded soon. He said he is also working out a way to incorporate comment cards—both paper and digital—so that residents can share their thoughts on the proposals.
Anderson also said that while the first few meetings might seem rapid, there is time to plan for more and this schedule will just help guide the board through the end of February. Selectman Bruce Wilson said every decision in this process, from needing more public meetings to the final vote, comes down to the people of Madison.
“This process is headed to a referendum so ultimately this board is going to guide the process, but the voters will ultimately decide,” he said. “Our goal is to guide the conversation down to a proposal we can vote on. We need everyone to be involved. We need people to show up, we need people to get us their opinion and concerns in writing or at meetings—that is the way we are going to get the best result for this property.”
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