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As the town moves forward with negotiations on a second, likely short-term lease with Our Lady of Mercy Preparatory Academy (OLMPA) for the Island Avenue School building, a citizens committee has been assembled to determine the best long-term use or purpose of the property.
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) earlier this month named the seven-member Island Avenue Future Use Committee, a group that will be charged with recommending to the BOS and the town whether to sell the property, find a town use for it, or explore some other destination or arrangement for it.
The members of the committee are Rich Bonnanzio, Jason Brown, Phil Chamberlain Graham Curtis, Athena Nomikos, Joe Paradiso, and Barbara Resnick.
Island was closed at the end of the 2018-’19 school year as the district worked to mitigate the effects of significantly declining enrollment. The town subsequently leased the building to OLMPA, a local Catholic-based private K-8 school, on a single-year basis—a lease that will expire this summer.
The town is currently in the process of negotiating a new, short-term agreement with OLMPA while it deliberates the eventual permanent fate of the building.
The BOS approved the initial charge for the committee back in December, and spent the next couple months interviewing candidates.
Lyons has said she is hoping for a relatively speedy resolution to the negotiations for the sake of OLMPA and its students, but also in settling on a final answer on the long-term fate of the building to avoid leaving the town with a potentially expensive, unpurposed piece of property for an extended period of time.
“We’ve laid the list of options out, and I think it’s really about how they go about tackling each of those options—do they launch an RFP process right away for development, do they solicit bids for leases? How you manage that? I think we have to kind of figure out what the right strategy is,” Lyons told The Source.
Curtis, who will serve as the committee’s chair, has a background in civil engineering and has served on other relevant committees in town, including the library committee and the high school building committee. He told The Source that he hopes to “do some investigation first” into the basics, researching or ruling out some options before bringing “some ideas” to the public.
“Things like septic systems, storm drainage, wetlands on the property, zoning issues—what’s it’s zoned for...things like that. What makes the most sense for the town,” he said. “I can say it’s pretty much certainly not going to be a community center.”
There are, in fact, wetlands on the property, Curtis said. Environmental studies of the property and building, which was built in 1930, will likely be a big part of what the committee’s work, he said.
Lyons said she would be providing “suggestions” on what she thinks the committee should examine, but that the specific approach would be up to them.
The committee’s charge requires it to conduct its meetings publicly with time for public comment. The charge also states the committee “should consider” conducting an opinion poll as well as studying the financial impact of the various options they come up with.
The committee is planning its first meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in the Madison Room at Town Campus, 8 Campus Drive.
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