The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 28, 2007


CSC to Selectmen on Highland: move it or lose it

The Highland School Building has been used for artist studios since 1992. (Photo by Betsy Fell)

The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) voted to retain control of the land under the Highland Building for possible future school use, and to request that the Selectmen form an ad hoc committee to quickly address the future of the building. The CSC set a deadline: the ad hoc committee is to develop a recommendation to the School Committee "for the removal or disposal of the building" by June 30, 2008.

School Committee members developed their position on the future of the Highland Building after a discussion with the School Building Committee (SBC), whose members voiced agreement with the vote. The SBC planned to take a formal vote on September 25.

The 100-year-old Highland School Building occupies a coveted footprint of the school property, between the Brick Building, Robbins Building and School Street. In use as a school building until the late 1980s, Highland was "technologically advanced" for its day, according to CSC and SBC member Wendell Sykes. Today the 6,900 square-foot structure is in need of repairs, most urgently the front porch steps, a broken window, a shifting chimney and the fire escape.

Artists' studios

In recent years, the Highland Building has been leased by the Emerson Umbrella for $1 a year, and rented as artist's studios. Tenant, artist and Carlisle resident Phyllis Hughes spoke about the benefits of having artists at the Highland. She said the building, which they call the "jewel on the hill," is loved by the artists, who would love an extended lease of at least three years so they can fund repairs. She said they are willing to work with the Historical Commission on fundraising to restore the Highland. She also noted when she is in the building at nights or on the weekends, she has reported acts of vandalism in progress. "The police are very, very happy that we are there," she said. "We think that it is a cultural benefit to the town of Carlisle to have 12 artists there."

Lease options

Emerson's lease expired last week. The School Committee has offered a one-year lease which also requires the artist cooperative to execute repairs to bring the building back to the condition it was when Emerson first rented the building. The repairs were part of the previous lease, but the new lease states this requirement more explicitly.

Emerson countered by offering to serve as property manager of the building. Under this proposal, Emerson would take a management fee of $1,400 a month from the tenants' rents, which total approximately $40,000 a year, if all 12 studios are rented. When the new agreement is terminated, Emerson would return monies above the management fee and operating costs to the school.

Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman said she would be in touch with Emerson and will again insist on a regular lease. Speaking at the Financial Team meeting on September 25, Zimmerman said she plans to write to Emerson to remind them that the lease has expired and they have 30 days to vacate the building if a new lease is not signed. She planned to meet this week with Emerson Umbrella Managing Director Carrie Flood to discuss the issue.

Superintendent Marie Doyle suggested if Emerson does not want to continue to lease Highland, the school could rent the spaces to the artists. She noted that four or five artists in the building would pay for the utilities.

Possible uses of land

School Committee Chair Nicole Burkel noted the school campus is small, and the land under Highland Building could be useful. Christy Barbee of the School Building Committee agreed, but noted that the building is not part of the Master Plan for the school, a plan that lays out the future facilities needs and construction projects. However, Barbee said, the building sits on land that could be used for parking. The school is extremely short of parking spaces on a daily basis, which is compounded when there is a larger school function or Town Meeting.

Committee member Dale Ryder asked, "Do we absolutely need that space right now?" Doyle responded, "I think we do. The playing space is overcrowded." Doyle was also concerned about teacher parking, noting that "teachers have to go all the way around the corner" to park on School Street. "When it's wintertime they are walking up the hill. It's dangerous. It's the Stockholm syndrome; the teachers have gotten so used to being overcrowded and having these awful conditions."

The Mosquito checked the parking lot on Thursday, at 9:30 a.m., the day after the meeting. There were 12 cars parked on School Street and 15 empty slots in the school parking lot. No cars were parked on Church Street in front of the main parking lot. There were 12 cars parked in creative fashion around the Spalding circle. Empty reserved spots at the Spalding circle included two set aside for expectant mothers.

Fitzgerald eyed the land for additional student play space, observing that the town is one of the "greenest communities" but the students play on cement. However, Barbee felt the location was not ideal for student uses, because of its proximity to the road.

Should Highland be restored?

Burkel said the group needed to decide whether to allow the building to be moved, or to be restored on its present site. School Building Committee member Don Rober said that allowing a group to successfully restore the building on the school property would cause Highland to remain permanently.

Committee member Chad Koski said, "I wouldn't support having it in that location without the School Committee controlling it because we control the security of the school system."

If the school declares the building surplus, Zimmerman pointed out, they would lose control of the building and the land beneath it. Burkel pointed out that the Selectmen could perhaps handle the management of the building until an action plan was developed.

Demolish or move?

Committee member Michael Fitzgerald urged that the school keep control of the land beneath the building. Zimmerman asked the follow-up, "If we are keeping control of the land, then does that mean we own the demolition project?" Fitzgerald said yes, including removal of any hazardous materials if the building is demolished. Barbee put in, "If you are lucky it could be made part of the building project."

Ryder said, "I'd like to say I'd personally not like to see it razed. I feel very strongly about that." Koski agreed, "I don't think we need to demolish it."

Fitzgerald said, "The Highland Building is a much-loved building by a great number people here in town." He noted it has "outlived its usefulness as a school building." He recommended the town should move the building to save it, perhaps relocating the building to land near the Town Hall. Sykes agreed, "It's a wonderful building; it should be preserved, but I don't see the motivation in the town."

Barbee said projected costs of moving the building in 2004 were around $150,000.

Comments from the floor

Burkel opened the meeting to a discussion by citizens. Nancy Cowan of Russell Street said the school should make a "clear statement," and set a time, four or five years, by which they will have the building demolished if nothing is done with it. Hughes was interested in the idea of moving the building to a new location. She also wishes someone would paint parking space lines.

School Committee asks for decision by 2008

Burkel said, "I don't want to be spending time arguing over a piece of real estate we really don't need for ten years." Sykes said, "I don't think it should drag on. We give people three months to come up with something, and if they don't, our recommendation is to knock it down." Barbee said, "I'm afraid I agree. You really have to put some time limit on it. Highland is the kind of thing that can be put on the back burner."

Fitzgerald developed a motion which was passed by the CSC: "That the School Committee convey to the Board of Selectmen our intention to retain the land under the Highland Building and request that the Board of Selectmen establish an ad hoc committee that would develop a recommendation to the School Committee by June 30, 2008 for the removal or disposal of the building."

For a history of the Highland School, see the Mosquito article, "The Highland School reaches for the century mark," January 13, 2006.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito