The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 3, 2009

Voters face choices for Highland’s future

The seemingly endless saga of the Highland Building may come to a conclusion at Town Meeting this spring when voters are asked to spend $450,000 for repairs and a fire protection system, or to spend $133,000 to destroy the building. After the repairs, the building would be protected from further deterioration from weather while reuse options were explored. Its condition at that point would be suitable for private uses. Alternatively, a second phase of renovations, costing roughly another $1.5 million, could then be undertaken to provide the handicapped accessibility necessary for public use.

A room in the Highland Building. (Photo by Mollie McPhee Ho)

If the town chooses the phase 1 repair option, existing CPA funds would be used, whereas the $133,000 needed to demolish the building would most likely require a debt exclusion.

The preliminary restoration is to include replacing the roof, weatherstripping, repairing the windows and chimney, upgrading the heating, plumbing and electrical systems, renovating the bathrooms and rebuilding the front porch and stairs. It would also cover added fire protection, including $153,320 for a cistern, sprinkler system, fire pump and fire alarm. Town officials have referred to this phase 1 renovation as the “pre-Emerson Umbrella condition” referring to the building’s condition in 1994 when it was rented to a local artists’ cooperative. However, phase 1 will include the additional enhancement of fire protection.

Since Town Meeting in 1993, when voters refused to allocate funds to repair or destroy it, the long-term fate of the Highland Building has been in a sort of limbo. Last year, at the request of the Carlisle School Committee, the Board of Selectmen agreed to investigate options for the future of the building. In the spring of 2008, the Selectmen formed the Highland Building Study Committee (HBSC) and asked it to investigate the benefits and costs of moving, demolishing, or repairing and renovating the structure.

Study group recommendations

In August of 2008, the HBSC returned to the Selectmen with a full report and their recommendations, which include transferring control of the Highland Building from the School Committee to the Selectmen and using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for a preliminary restoration of the building as well as to provide a fire protection system and cistern.

The HBSC recommends that the final decision on the fate of Highland be made by the voters. The HBSC also recommends that, should Town Meeting vote to restore Highland, a repair bid request should be issued immediately so that repairs can be started without delay. The committee also recommends that options for re-use of the building be presented to the town for final determination. (The complete August 2008 report is available online at:

In its report the HBSC states, “The study group believes that 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.” The group found that the Highland Building “has substantial practical value as well as historic and architectural value.” For this reason, the report recommends the Highland Building be stabilized, restored and renovated at its current location for a “to-be-determined” use.

According HBSC member John Ballantine, the group agreed that Highland is important to the town and as a group the HBSC was in favor of saving it. “The fate of the Highland Building has been difficult for the School Committee to deal with. It was helpful to take this decision off their back, to let an independent group gather information and to let the voters decide. . . We think there is value to the building and not just in the numbers.” Others who served on the HBSC were Alan Carpenito, Bob Hilton, Ken Hoffman, Dale Ryder, Bob Stone and Wendell Sykes (partial term).

Options presented

The report provides cost estimates for a variety of options, but narrowed the list to what the committee determined were the most likely six (see page 7). The six remaining options do not include moving the building. Ballantine stated, “We looked at this closely and it was a group decision. It would cost several hundred thousand dollars to move it and we would still have renovation costs. We would also lose a lot – including its location at the top of the hill and the beautiful foundation.” Selectman and HBSC member Alan Carpenito stated that the steep grades on School Street and Church Street limited moving the building to locations slightly further up the hill from its current location or slightly further down the hill to the corner of School and Church Streets. The study group felt that neither new location would be worth the costs. Cost estimates to move the building are included in the report.

The report notes that any use of the building in its current location must address the security and safety of the students during the school day.

Cost information provided in the report assumes prevailing wages and a public bidding process. The figures do not include any inflation adjustment or costs of furnishings or equipment. The “restoration to pre-Umbrella condition” [phase 1] option includes fire protection whereas the stabilization option does not.

Restoration costs

Based on the recommendation of the HBSC, the Selectmen requested a grant from the Community Preservation Committee in the amount of $450,000. This request included the original estimate of $409,000 for phase 1 and a contingency of approximately 10%. This extra contingency was requested by the Selectmen to ensure that enough funds would be available should any unexpected issues arise because the work would be done on school property. The CPC approved the request at the amount of $445,000.

The report estimates that to bring Highland to full Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and usefulness, for a range of public and private purposes, would cost approximately $1.8 million. Carpenito has stated that money spent to restore Highland to its “pre-Umbrella condition” [i.e. phase 1] would not be lost if the town voted later to fully restore the building.

Although this is not the first time the “raze or restore Highland” issue has been brought before the voters, Carpenito feels it may be the last. If voters choose to restore Highland, CPA funds are in place for the work. If they choose to demolish the building, there is no funding allocated and the building may stand vacant until that situation changes. Further, if the town does not vote for either option, the building returns to its state of limbo. “The next time . . . there won’t be a next time.” Carpenito says, “The next time it would be too far gone and the rehabilitation costs would be too high. Right now is the perfect time. There is no structural damage to the wooden frame.”

Carpenito added, “Preservation of the Highland Building will retain the rich historical character of Carlisle by saving an architectural treasure that can be utilized and enjoyed by our citizens for years to come... There is a real need for space in town. Recreation would like space for after-school programs and the Council on Aging could use meeting space. I don’t think that we will see a community center that costs $5 to $7 million dollars anytime soon. Highland would give us something to use. We have the support of the Selectmen, the School Committee and the Historical Commission. Now we just need community support.” ∆

[Ed note: see related article and table.]

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito