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After months of debate, discussion, and deliberation, on Sept. 11 the Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted to move a potential lease with Our Lady of Mercy Preparatory Academy (OLMPA) for Island Avenue School forward to a Town Meeting in October. At the Town Meeting, residents will have the final say on if the town can move forward and sign the lease.
The terms stipulate that the lease will be for one year beginning in August 2019 with no option for a renewal period or extension. The total rent payment is $535,000, payable five days before the building is delivered to OLMPA. OLMPA would be responsible for all maintenance and associated costs. The lease document also goes to specific details of the building as well as insurance coverage and indemnification.
The conversation with OLMPA has gone through numerous iterations over the last few months, with the town moving down to a one-year lease versus a three-year lease due to concerns about the financial viability of the school over the longer term. At over a series of special BOS meetings throughout August, town officials dug through numerous lease concerns surrounding liability, capital costs, insurance, and timing.
At the meeting on Sept. 11, the BOS opened the meeting agenda to send the lease document forward and set a Town Meeting for sometime during the first week of October. A finalized date will be published once the town determines availability of the auditorium at Polson Middle School, the venue traditionally used for town meetings.
First Selectman Tom Banisch said that over the past few weeks, members of the board have been going back and forth with the town attorney to finalize all the details of the lease agreement to put before the public.
The BOS “will settle on what we consider to be the final document that we are going to offer [OLMPA], and then we will release that lease document and people will be able to start to understand it,” he said.
Banisch had previously expressed concern that residents wouldn’t have enough time to get caught up on the issue at hand and review the lease document before being asked to vote, which was one reason the BOS slowed the process to a lease down back in late July.
With the lease now ready for public consumption, the town has also been working through other mechanical steps such as putting the possible change in tenant of Island Avenue before the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC). The disposition or lease of town-owned property technically falls under state statue and requires PZC approval. As the use of the building would not be changing and would still remain a school, PZC voted o Sept. 7 that a special exception application will not be required from OLMPA and the commission made a positive referral.
Getting to this Point
Parents and families from OLMPA first came before the BOS on April 9 to discuss the potential of leasing Island Avenue School. Closing Island is part of the Board of Education (BOE) response to declining enrollment; as of now the plan is to close the school in June 2019.
Our Lady of Mercy School (OLM), located at 149 Neck Road in town, is the main Catholic K to 8 school serving Madison and Guilford since 1954. Early this year the school announced that the school building would close at the end of this academic year and the school be combined with St. Mary’s School in Branford.
Following the news of the imminent closure, some OLM families banded together to begin looking for ways to separate the school from the local parishes to form an independent school grounded in the Catholic faith, and find a permanent home, ideally still in Madison.
OLMPA has been looking at Island Avenue School as a potential temporary home for the school since news broke that the home of the current OLM (which is run by the Archdiocese of Hartford) on Neck Road would be closed at the end of this academic year.
As part of its schools consolidation plan, Madison had earlier announced it would close the Island Avenue School after the 2018-’19 school year. Selectmen and members of OLMPA had been reviewing financial statements and issues like liability to see if leasing Island was a viable option after the Madison Public School District formally turns the building over to the town in 2019.
In July, the BOS expressed concern over some of OLMPA’s finances and was reluctant to move forward to the public with a potential three-year lease agreement. Instead, the BOS opted to continue discussions with a one-year lease option on the table. Selectmen pulled together a rough list of terms and conditions it would want to see in a lease agreement, which then led to Aug. 2 meeting at which the Board of Finance (BOF) was included in the discussion to offer input.
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