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It takes money to figure out how much money it’s going to cost the town to potentially convert and operate the former Academy school as a Community Center. A request recently came before the Board of Selectmen (BOS) from the Ad-Hoc Academy School Community Center Design Committee for an additional $5,000, but the BOS opted not to authorize the money until a few more questions can be answered.
The Ad-Hoc Academy School Community Center Design Committee is 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. The committee told the BOS on April 8 that a community center is a feasible option for the Academy building at a cost of $14 million.
The report made to the BOS at the time answered some but not all of the questions regarding the feasibility and costs of transforming Academy into a community center. Later in April, the BOS decided the committee should be brought back to continue to explore alternative or creative funding options for the building. At that time, the committee charge was expanded slightly to include more detailed language about costs that need to be explored, specifically operating costs for a community center and potential alternative building construction options like grants and tax credits.
The committee was given $10,000 to assist with creating the initial April report. The committee returned to he BOS with a request for more money on June 11 because that $10,000 has been spent and the committee now has new tasks to complete.
Selectman Bruce Wilson said he understands the need in theory but still has some questions.
“As I read the request, it looks like they want to explore solar and geothermal on the building, which makes sense, and then there is the contact with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and that again makes sense,” he said. “I am not exactly sure how either one of those creates a need to spend money. One is a quote and we did a similar exercise on this building and we didn’t spend money for quoting purposes.”
Selectman Al Goldberg, who serves as liaison to the committee, said the $5,000 would go to Colliers for additional hours to help the committee work through some of the more challenging tasks in the expanded charge.
“In terms of the energy considerations, their thinking was it is not so much the quote for the capital they need help with, it’s trying to understand the operating for the electrical or whatever fuel source is needed,” he said. “We have asked them to come up with an operating budget and a maintenance budget…The committee felt uncomfortable that the BOS was asking for a best estimate of the operating and maintenance costs for the proposed building when they really don’t have a way to generate that on their own.”
Members of the committee were unable to attend the BOS meeting, so the board voted to table the issue until its next meeting. Goldberg did not object to the delay but reminded fellow board members that it would tighten how much the committee can accomplish before its next progress report.
“They have a July 22 progress report requirement from us and they were trying to manage that as best they could, so I think it is certainly OK to delay be two weeks as long as we understand that we will start pushing up on that July 22 date,” he said.
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. Polling results 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. Committee Chair Bill 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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