The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 10, 2006


Highland voted out of Carlisle School Master Plan Who will pay for renovations?

Several Historical Commission members spoke out on the Highland Building's behalf at the School Committee meeting last week. Highland is not included in the school's plans for the future and no one knows who will take over the building's ongoing maintenance.

School Building Committee chair Christy Barbee emphasized that though the school has voted that Highland is not suitable for school use, they are not recommending it be torn down. "We're just affirming not to use it," she explained, because they believe estimates to renovate and bring the building up to current codes are too high to justify its use for school purposes.

"It sounds like you're setting it up for demolition by turning it over to the town," said Larry Sorli, chair of the Historical Commission. "No one's going to want to handle it." He questioned the requirements needed to bring the building up to current codes.

Bob Hilton asked the school to consider the opinions of other people in town who don't currently have children in the school system. "I would like the School Committee to take a wider view of the Highland School. Children and the school are important, but I want to remind you how important Highland is to the general taxpayer." Wendy Davis called Highland a beautiful building. "It would be a horror to have it torn down."

School Committee member Mike Fitzgerald said he recognized Highland is an historical building and is now used as an artists' collaborative with artist studios. On the other hand, he pointed out the town is not likely to receive any state reimbursement for renovations on the building. He said he wanted the Board of Selectmen to help determine the use of the building.

From the audience Selectman Tim Hult listed the "significant" capital expenses the town faces: 1.Concord-Carlisle Regional High School building project 2. Carlisle Public School building project 3. Town affordable housing project 4. Additional athletic fields. These are all priorities for the town, he said, and Highland requires an estimated $2 million in renovations for school use.

"It's just not cost-effective to use it," said committee member Wendell Sykes, explaining the school needs to make a decision on the building for the Master Plan now underway with HFMH architects. Sykes said the wood-frame building without sprinklers is in close proximity to other school buildings and is a safety concern.

"We believe the cost to renovate Highland, a relatively small historic building, would be substantially greater than that for the same amount of program space in new construction and/or renovation (of other school buildings)," architect Lori Cowles wrote in a letter to the school last week. "It is the opinion of HMFH Architects that the condition of the nearly 100-year-old Highland Building, coupled with its remote location, make it unacceptable for school use." The building is non-compliant with current school fire, safety and accessibility codes, and needs extensive renovations including a new roof, repair or replacement of all windows, new decking and steps, and possible heating, plumbing and electrical upgrades.

The school was told in previous building studies that the Massachusetts School Building Authority is not likely to reimburse for renovations on wood-frame school buildings. Even if the state did reimburse for Highland, "Within the new MSBA regulations, it is doubtful that the cost per square foot to renovate Highland for school use would justify the 6,900 square feet achieved," Cowles wrote.

At the meeting the School Committee voted with the School Building Committee's recommendation, "The Highland Building should not be part of the school Master Plan."

"Now the next step is to decide what to do with Highland, beyond educational purposes," said School Business Manager Steve Moore. A decade ago the school had concerns about opening the building up for other public uses because of its proximity to students on the school campus, said Peter Stuart, who is on both the School Building Committee and on the Historical Commission.

"If there is a strong feeling about Highland, and it can be properly maintained and kept in safe condition, then the school might allow Highland to continue in its present use (as artists' space)," Barbee said later. "However, the school does not plan to expend funds for its upkeep," she said.

The current lease with Emerson Umbrella, a non-profit artists' group that has used the building since 1994, will expire next year in September 2007. In its lease, Emerson Umbrella pays the school a token amount of $1 a year but is responsible for all heating and electricity bills, and insurance on the building. The Umbrella in turn charges artists rent for their studio spaces. The school is concerned the building is not being maintained as it was in the past.

Carol Krauss, co-president of the Emerson Umbrella board said, "Emerson Umbrella is unlikely to consider the scope of long-term improvements that could be made to the Highland Building until it knows whether or not the Town of Carlisle would renew the lease and make the term longer, to at least 10 years. Even so, responsibility for capital improvements would be part of any normal lease negotiation." The non-profit would need a major fundraising effort to accomplish the needed repairs. The Umbrella operates its main facility on Stow Street in Concord.

Sorli pointed out after the meeting that the town may be able to use Community Preservation Act funds for repairs to the outside of the Highland Building.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito