The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 15, 2008

Study Group recommends that Selectmen control and preserve Highland Building

The Board of Selectmen (BOS) met with the Highland Building Study Group on August 12 to discuss their research on possible dispositions of the Highland School Building. The group recommends that the Selectmen take control of the building; that Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds be used to upgrade the condition; that a Highland Building Committee work with the School Building Committee to study adaptive re-uses of the building; and that Town Meeting has a voice in the decisions.

The document includes a detailed assessment of the building’s condition, professional cost estimates of demolition as well as of a variety of types of preservation, and extensive records prepared by Bob Koning, of the building’s history, uses, inspections and repairs to the present day. The report also includes a record of the research done by the group to ascertain the positions of the School Committee, School Building Committee and School Superintendent with regard to possible dispositions of the building.

Selectman Alan Carpenito, who represented the board on and served as a member of the Highland Building Study Group, read into the record the main points of the committee’s conclusions (exerpted from the report):

“1. The Highland Building has substantial practical value as well as historic and architectural value to the Town of Carlisle….The report and analysis that follows recommends that the Highland Building be stabilized, restored and renovated for a “to-be-determined” use where it presently stands.

“The Study Group believes the Highland Building has a place in Carlisle’s future providing economical, flexible and attractive space, whether for Carlisle Public School use, other public uses or some combination of both.

“2. All Carlisle citizens must, after reviewing the issues, options and costs, have the opportunity to vote on ultimate disposition of the Highland Building.

“Given the existing value of the Highland School Building, we recommend and urge the Town to act immediately to preserve the building. The process of deciding how to best use the building, and to put those plans into effect will take time... and that time could destroy the “value” (if the building deteriorates) if we do not act to preserve it.

“3. The entire Highland Building cannot be properly and effectively adapted to the programming needs of the Carlisle Public Schools. Thus, if the disposition of the Highland is left to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC), their only logical decision would be to demolish it because the School Committee would not find a financially sound school use for the building. However, our study finds that there are combinations of school and other public uses that are feasible and that there may also be some fully non-school uses that are feasible.

“Thus, the burden of the decision, the upkeep and the execution of a plan to reuse the Highland must be lifted from the School Committee. The Carlisle Board of Selectmen must take control of the building … [and] must assure the CSC that the school will have a real say in the outcome.”

Five action items were recommended for the Selectmen:

BOS action points

• “The Carlisle Board of Selectmen takes control of the Highland as soon as possible.”

• “A plan that presents a logical thoughtful process justifying the expenditure of CPA funds [estimated at $409,000] to stabilize the Highland is immediately prepared and presented to the Town Meeting.

• “Immediately following item #2 above, a repair RFP (estimated cost $409,000) is created, issued and awarded for stabilization of the Highland Building. Concurrently, a Highland Building Committee, in parallel with the School Building Committee, would begin an in-depth study of all the possible adaptive re-uses of the building as presented in this report.

• “Repairs are completed to stabilize the building by October 2009, if not earlier.

• “Adaptive re-use options studies for the stabilized Highland Building are presented to the Town [for] final determination of use.”

Upon completing the reading of this part of the report, Carpenito invited the Selectmen to ask questions.

Demolition and moving nixed

The first query, “Why did you conclude that demolition or moving were not viable options?” prompted Carpenito to explain that, “Demolition, at $133,000, is a tremendous loss to the community, because in addition to the cost of demolition, you are losing a tremendous asset and paying for the loss. The [study group] also thought that moving is not a logical option. It would cost $333,000 to move it a short distance, which was not thought to offer much positive value for the town. Mothballing the building would cost $114,000 just to repair deterioration on the exterior and only buys a little time and there would still be no fire protection.

“With [the group’s] recommendation of returning the building to pre-Emerson Umbrella condition, at $409,000, it gets a heating system, plumbing and electrical upgrades and fire protection. These would help with the next level [of restoration]. Any money expended [in this scenario] would not be wasted. The $1.7 million price is for complete restoration, but you could subtract the money already spent for repairs.”

School Committee, in shift,

seeks compromise

Selectman Doug Stevenson asked the study group to comment on their conversations with the School Committee, saying that it was his understanding that the School Committee did not support preserving the building.

Dale Ryder, who represented the School Committee on the Highland Building Study Group, took the microphone. “What’s happened over the last six months,” she said, “is that this group has been in negotiation with the Carlisle School Committee. The school is going through a building process, and the School Committee has been primarily interested in the land [the building sits on], rather than the building. Over time and membership turnover, however, there has been a shift in the attitude of the School Committee. We [the School Committee] want to compromise on this and we want to work together to see if there is a way that the school can utilize the building for some school use and maybe other use as well. We’re in a good position now in the big picture to come to a compromise and work together.”

Bill Fink added that he had been representing the School Committee on the School Building Committee. “We’d love to see [the Highland Building] maintained,” he said. “We need to have the opportunity to review the report. We’re on a great path right now and we would like to come to an agreement. The School Committee’s main concern is safety for the children. There are uses that the school could consider and some ideas worth floating for multi-use as long as safety issues are addressed.”

Selectman John Williams asked if “it is fair to say that the School Committee’s position is that you would foresee uses as offices for school administration and other town employees?” Fink replied, “Yes, that’s fair.”

Open meetings to discuss building and findings

At this juncture, Selectman Tim Hult said that he had three considerations he needed to get on the table. “First,” he said, “It’s important for us to collectively state that we want to consider this issue in some way separate from the school building project. There is no guarantee that saving the building would have any reduction or effect on the building project. There would be no classroom or direct educational facilities in the Highland. The school building project is independent of our actions in relation to the Highland Building. And it is not the solution to the replacement of the Spalding Building.”

“Second,” he continued, “we have to consider next steps: we must move this along to alternatives that will be presented at Town Meeting. There is a set of discussions that we have to have to formulate Warrant Articles. We have to involve the Community Preservation Committee as early as possible.”

“Coming out of this, I would encourage the Board of Selectmen to have at least one, maybe two public sessions where we…allow the public to have input as to the disposition and use of the building.”

A phased approach

The board generally agreed to these remarks. Stevenson then thanked each member of the Highland Building Study Group for their work on what he called a “fine, excellent” process and report, and then asked for further comments from the study group and questions from the general public. Study group member John Ballantine rose and noted two points to clarify the group’s conclusions.

“The reason we went with the $409,000 renovation,” he said, “was that it was financially responsible, but also because the uses will affect the cost of the final design. It makes more sense to go for a phased approach, as [group member] Bob Hilton reminded us, rather than ask for a final design. There needs to be a careful study of that before you go for final renovation.”

“Also,” he continued, “there is the issue that was my particular concern: parking. Parking has always been seen as a restraint. The Congregational Church is willing to pursue it in a more formal way. That should almost be pursued independently and actively, because if we could get 30 to 40 parking spaces on a contractual basis from the church, that would relieve a lot of problems.”

Other possible uses

Thornton Ash of the Finance Committee wanted to know if the recommended uses are “basically administrative for school or town.” Williams replied, “That is my reading of [School Superintendent] Marie [Doyle]’s responses. Student use is ruled out, but administrative or several community uses are possible.” Carpenito said that the building might support, “RecCom offices, after-school programs or evening programs. [The building has] four classrooms about the size of the Clark Room.”

David Model of the Finance Committee asked whether the group had investigated the building as a possible revenue source for the town. Carpenito replied in the negative, because at this time, he said, the building is too close to the school. Study Group member Bob Stone added, “In the study report we have not ruled out the opportunity of, say, four studio apartments. Our concern is the safety of students. Marie Doyle came back and said she would accept elderly or teacher housing.”

Selectmen agree to move forward

Stevenson brought the discussion to a close by noting that the “FinCom, Planning Board and other committees should have this report.” He added, “We should be working toward annual Town Meeting next spring to get something to the public. This study gives us some direction.”

Hult noted that first, the board should address the “transfer of control to Board of Selectmen. We need to work with the school admininistration, Madonna [McKenzie] and Town Counsel on what is related to those issues. Also, if we bring this to the town, are we saying this is our proposed strategy and if we don’t do this we have to tear [the building] down? We need to think about that.”

Stevenson concluded, “We look forward to moving forward and getting some resolution on the Highland Building.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito