The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 19, 2008

Selectmen will ask for Highland vote at Spring Town Meeting

Should the town pay $409,000 to make the Highland Building viable for some uses, or demolish it at a cost of $133,000? That’s the question the Selectmen hope to put before voters at the next Annual Town Meeting. On September 9, the BOS reviewed the recommendations of the Highland Building Study Group, appointed last spring to come up with alternatives for the 100-year-old former school building. The report, issued in August, can be viewed at the Carlisle town website

Selectman Tim Hult suggested that a request be made to use $409,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds set aside for historic preservation to bring the building to “pre-Umbrella condition” as specified in the Study Group’s report. Emerson Umbrella artists occupied the building for a number of years and, during that time, little maintenance was done and the building deteriorated. Repair work would be extensive; in addition to re-roofing, weatherstripping, and repairing windows and the chimney, the heating system, plumbing and electrical systems would be upgraded, bathroom renovated and front porch and stairs rebuilt. The $409,000 would also add fire protection, including a cistern, sprinkler system, fire pump and fire alarm.

At this level, the building would not be handicapped-accessible and would not be legal for public use without additional investment. The report suggests it could be occupied by a non-profit or private group not subject to ADA regulations. It gave a $1.8 million estimate to bring the building to full ADA compliance and usefulness for a range of public and private purposes. This includes over $300,000 for a possible addition containing an elevator.

Reached later, Selectman Doug Stevenson clarified that the Highland project and the Carlisle School new building “are being looked at as two discrete projects.” The MSBA would not reimburse renovation of a wood-framed building, and the Selectmen may want the flexibility to consider a non-school occupant. In the next months the Selectmen will familiarize themselves with the opportunities and limitations of the building in the hopes of presenting Town Meeting with two or three viable options for its use. “We don’t want to find we’ve created a white elephant,” said Stevenson. “We’ll have our eyes on some long-term purpose.”

The use of CPA funds to upgrade the building would require approval of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), a Town Meeting vote and a vote at the ballot box. Hult suggested that if the proposal were to fail at Town Meeting, an alternate Warrant Article should be moved that would designate $133,000 to demolish the building. Chair Doug Stevenson said a transfer of the property, which is owned by the Carlisle School, to the Town of Carlisle, would be necessary before any vote were taken. This transfer would also require a vote at Town Meeting. However, the school might want the land returned if the decision were made to demolish.

Bob Hilton, a member of the Study Group, expressed reservations about submitting a Warrant Article to tear down this historic building, “It’s hard to argue for demolition. Maybe it’s good to have [the Warrant Article] so people will shrink from it.” He was assured that a ballot question would be required as demolition would likely be financed through debt exclusion. “Having a vote of the town would be appropriate,” agreed Hult. He said the worst case might be if Town Meeting voters rejected both options, as they have in the past, leaving the fate of the building in limbo. “We need to take leadership as a town.”

Rather than appoint a new task force, Stevenson suggested the BOS approach the Carlisle School and CPC to discuss the plan. In addition, some members of the Study Group will meet to strategize how the Town Meeting Warrant Articles could be presented. Next steps will be formulated at a BOS meeting in October. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito