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Time to get back to work: Having previously decided to pull an Academy question from the May budget ballot, on May 13 the Board of Selectmen voted to reconstitute the Ad-Hoc Academy School Community Center Design Committee to allow for further investigation into the community center concept.
The Ad-Hoc Academy School Community Center Design Committee, a committee charged with working in consultation with project management firm Colliers International to create a design proposal for a community center, develop a cost estimate, hold public input sessions, and recommend next steps for the design proposal, told the board on April 8 that a community center is a feasible option for the Academy building at a cost of $14 million.
Later in April, after having decided not to push forward with an Academy question in May, the BOS decided the committee should be brought back to continue to explore alternative or creative funding options for the building.
All committee members, with the exception of Gus Horvath, signed back on. The committee charge was expanded slightly to include more detailed language around costs that need to be explored. In addition, the BOS looked to put a new sunset date on the committee of Monday, July 22. Committee member Dick Passero said that date was too soon.
“What we are trying to do is come up with alternative funding, so it seems to be that we ought to be allowed to just keeping working at that alternative funding until it goes to referendum,” he said.
Selectman Bruce Wilson said ad-hoc committees have to have a sunset date by statute. Selectmen ultimately decided to make July 22 a progress report date for the committee. Committee Chair Bill Stableford said the committee can work with that.
“We will be actively exploring alternative funding sources, but I think it is pretty well known that sometimes funding sources, like grants, will not commit until the project has been completely approved and is actually going to take place,” he said. “We will do what we can and get back to you in July.”
Stableford also pointed out that the committee had previously been given $10,000 to pay for services provided by Colliers International and an architect to help with design and costs. He asked selectmen to check if more money would be needed to keep those consultants on.
The schedule of when the committee would come back to the BOS also raised another issue. Whatever is decided on for Academy, town officials have made it clear that an Academy project must go through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the planning document for all of the town and school capital needs. The issue raised is that the deadline to submit projects to the CIP for the coming fiscal year is July 1.
“We need to acknowledge then that we are probably not putting anything in for Academy in the coming CIP budget cycle,” he said.
Horvath, who stepped off the Academy committee but is a member of CIP, said there are other ways to get Academy or some money for Academy planning into the CIP for this coming year.
“When we talk about CIP and the issue of needing to get items in by July 1, I would urgently suggest that you get a line item in CIP for Academy for planning money or maybe you might consider some design money,” he said. “I don’t know what those numbers would be, but by July 1, some department—whoever you think would be responsible—should get a line item in there.”
Horvath said the other option open to selectmen is to beef up the town’s planning reserve fund to cover any future planning or design costs, but Horvath said the best thing to do would be to get a placeholder in CIP specifically for Academy.
“I would prefer to see the specific line items rather than getting it lost in a planning fund,” he said. “I would hate to see these issues fall through the cracks because there is no note of them in CIP.”
Resident Kathryn Hunter asked selectmen if the $14 million cost currently attached to Academy could be put in to CIP as the placeholder. She also asked selectmen if money should be put in to protect the building now.
“I was also hoping that this board would consider, if Academy is not going to be restored this year, has anyone been looking into if we should put something in the CIP for the roof and the windows?” she said. “This building just now went through this winter, it’s going to go through the summer and possibly another winter again with a compromised roof and windows. Our asset is deteriorating.”
How We Got Here
The Academy School building has been vacant for more than a decade and multiple administrations have struggled to find a popular solution for the building and its lot.
The parcel is 5.1 acres in the historic district and in the R-2 Residential Zone, which allows for single-family residential, municipal, educational, recreational, and religious uses. The building itself is 53,000 square feet with three floors, 16 classrooms, a gym, theater, kitchen, cafeteria, and music rooms. The building is also on the National Register of Historic places, which means there is a risk of litigation if the building is demolished.
Over the past decade, the town has formed numerous committees to try to determine what to make of the building. In 2018, plans to make Academy purely residential were quickly rebuked by the public. A committee was then formed to gauge feasibility and public interest in alternative options. By way of polling, the community showed strong support for a community center in the building. The BOS then formed a new design committee, the Ad-Hoc Academy School Community Center Design Committee, to flesh out design and cost options for a community center model.
The committee met with the Beach & Recreation Department to discuss having the department transfer offices to Academy and assume responsibility for the building if it were to become a community center. In addition, the Economic Development Commission, the town planner, the schools, Madison Youth & Family Services, the Arts Barn, Madison Senior Services, the Madison Art Society, the Madison Chamber of Commerce, and the Scranton Library have all approached the committee to discuss various space needs that could be solved with an Academy community center. Stableford previously said the work showed a community center to be a viable option.
“Our committee unanimously supports that the board adopts and supports the design...and budget proposal presented here,” he said.
Stableford said the committee reached several conclusions beyond the community center feasibility; the committee’s work showed that there’s a large, unmet need for public space in Madison and that a community center can be built in Academy within the $14 million budget initially pitched under a prior committee last year.
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