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To keep the discussion surrounding the future of the former Academy School moving, on May 14 the Board of Selectmen (BOS) adopted a charge for the Ad-Hoc Academy Building Guidance Committee and now hopes to appoint members to the committee in the coming weeks.
The board started discussing the potential charge for the Ad-Hoc Academy School Guidance Committee in late April. Following several public hearings at which the board heard numerous residents express displeasure with the potential development options on the table for Academy, the board recently decided to take a step back, refocus, and gather more information.
The process started at a special BOS meeting on April 12, when the board outlined and voted for a total of nine next steps to further the Academy School development process: 1) establish an ad-hoc academy building committee, 2) discover costs of building demolition only, 3) discover costs of demolition and building afresh a structure for town or community use, 4) develop preliminary costs of building rehabilitation for town or community use, 5) solicit proposals from the four responding developers for building-only proposals, 6) explore grant and public funding opportunities for any future use, 7) solicit opinion from historic stakeholders, 8) request the Board of Education provide a timeline for the return of Island Avenue School, and 9) take other steps necessary to be consistent with the objectives of the process.
During initial discussions, board members all agreed they wanted the same thing for the committee, but wanted to take another look at the language of the charge. At the meeting on May 14, Selectman Bruce Wilson presented an updated version of the charge.
“My intention when I brought this up is that the scope of the committee be fairly narrow, or maybe a better word is streamlined, with the idea of working towards a November referendum,” he said. “Our goal is to get this question on the ballot for the general election and my concern with a much larger scope is that it just couldn’t happen.”
Much of the language of the revised charge focuses on having the committee conduct a poll of residents to gather town input on the options. Selectman Al Goldberg said while that step is very important, the public needs to be educated about the options before a poll can be conducted.
“I think we are all in agreement, but I envision a process in which the committee is presented with all kinds of existing information by the various staff people involved; the committee understands not only the cost, but the benefits of one approach verses another; but then it seems to me there is a public information step before the polling can take place,” he said. “The public needs to be provided with information about the costs and the benefits of the options. We need to do a public information campaign and only then can polling take place.”
Board members agreed and the charge was amended to say that the committee will gather information on various options, present that information to the public, and then ensure “that a comprehensive and unbiased survey of Madison taxpayers and residents is conducted with regards to the future use of the Academy School building and fields using a polling firm specified by the Board of Selectmen”.
Committee members will be given all existing information on the building to aid in the process and the total number of committee members has been set at seven. The committee is charged with presenting the results of the poll or survey to the BOS at a later date so that a question can go before the public this November.
Kathryn Hunter, one of the leaders of the Save Academy group, said she wanted to see a large committee with a broader scope and is concerned that getting a question on the Nov. 6 ballot might be too soon.
“I am not sure that I agree that establishing Nov. 6 as the date of the referendum should be the driver,” she said. “I actually think that is a little bit of the tail wagging the dog.”
Banisch said putting the question on the general election ballot could help ensure high voter turnout and Wilson said for now, the November date is a good goal, but it is not set in stone.
“We acknowledge that if something happens that makes that date unreasonable then we would consider that, but we need to start with a goal and we need to start with a place to arrive at,” he said.
The BOS unanimously approved the committee charge pending final review of the edited document.
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