The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 8, 2009

Articles 21-23:

Old Lady Highland gets a new life…for now



This photo of the new Highland School appeared in the Annual Report of the Town of Carlisle for the year ending February 1, 1909. (File photo)

The Highland Building, Carlisle’s stately old schoolhouse, nearly 101 years old, was given an extension on life by a vote of 233 to 93, after a spirited debate at Town Meeting late on Monday night.

The last student left Highland in 1986 and the question of what to do about the grand old

building has been unresolved for the past 23 years. Vacant since 2007, and rapidly deteriorating, the building has been considered a fire hazard and a security risk, particularly because of its close proximity to occupied school buildings. Since no public or private entity willing and able to restore and use Highland had come forward, many responsible citizens favored demolishing the building. However, others agreed with the Selectmen and the Historical Commission that the Highland Building was valuable because of its history and unique architecture, and because the space could be useful to the town in the future. On Monday, Carlisle citizens voted to appropriate $445,000 out of Community Preservation funds to upgrade the building to make it safe until a plan for its use and rehabilitation can be developed.

Brief history

The Highland Building, one of the oldest public buildings in Carlisle. was built in 1908 to house all Carlisle students in grades 1 to 8. It remained in use as a school building until 1986 when the last students were moved into the other buildings. For the next eight years Highland was used mainly as cold storage.

In 1994, the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) leased the building to the Emerson Umbrella for use as artists’ studios. However, by 2007 Highland had fallen into a state of disrepair, and the artists’ lease was not renewed.

At the same time the CSC decided that bringing Highland up to current state standards would not be cost effective and it could not be part of the school’s Master Plan. In 2007, the CSC voted to retain control of the land under Highland, but requested that the Board of Selectmen (BOS) take ownership of the building and take responsibility for its fate.

Highland Building Study Committee member Bob Hilton described the historic architectural value of the building. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

The BOS then formed the Highland School Building Study Committee, which reported its conclusions last summer:

• The Highland Building has substantial practical value, as well as historic and architectural value, to the Town of Carlisle.

• The building should be under the control of the Selectmen, but the school should retain considerable say in its use.

• All Carlisle citizens should have the opportunity to vote on the ultimate disposition of the Highland Building. The committee recommended immediate action to stabilize the structure to preserve it for future use.

Based on these recommendations, the BOS placed Articles 21, 22 and 23 on the Warrant.

Article 21: Transfer of Highland to BOS

The Highland debate at Town Meeting began with Article 21 which asked the town to transfer control of the building from the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) to the Board of Selectmen.

Ralph Anderson of Baldwin Road was concerned that the School Committee will continue to own the land, making it difficult for the Selectmen to make decisions. Doug Stevenson, chair of the Board of Selectmen, countered that the BOS does not foresee any problems in coordinating with the CSC.

The motion passed easily on a voice vote.

Article 22: CPA authorization

Ed Sonn suggested that the proposed fire cistern for Highland could also be used for a fire at the school. Ken Brady waits to speak. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

The Community Preservation Committee presented five motions under Article 22. Motion 5 recommended that $445,000 of CPA money be appropriated for a partial renovation of the Highland Building. These funds have already been collected and there would be no impact on the tax rate.

John Ballantine, former Carlisle Selectman and member of the Highland Study Committee, outlined the repairs:

External façade $80,750
Fire safety $153,320
Heating and plumbing $62,500
Fees, public bids $112,697
Contingency $35,733

Total $445,000

While these repairs would stabilize the structure and add fire protection, redesign of the Highland Building for town use would likely require an additional future investment of approximately $1.3 million, Ballantine said.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously supported the Article. Speaking for the Historical Commission, member and architect Chip Dewing urged passage as “the Highland School Building is significant in its history and culture to the Town of Carlisle, because of its unique architecture which is representative of the early 20th century… and because it occupies such a prominent site in town.” Bob Hilton, a member of the Highland Study Committee, praised the classical revival style and envisioned “a much-needed community center on Schoolhouse Hill.” Others saw a day care center, a senior citizens center, or a place for Recreation Commission programs.

On the other hand, a significant opposition voiced their concerns. The Finance Committee voted not to support the Article, objecting to any expenditure of funds before a use is determined, and pointing to additional large expenditures down the road to ready Highland for any public purpose. The Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee also said no.

Other citizens worried about a lack of parking adjacent to the building, the probability of significant restrictions on public use during school hours, and the fact that $445,000 in CPA funds, once spent, will not be available for future needs.

After an hour of debate, when Moderator Tom Raftery called for the vote, Old Lady Highland found many friends. The measure passed by a margin of 2.5 to 1.

Article 23: Demolition

Since Article 22 passed, Article 23, which asked for $133,000 to demolish the Highland Building, was not moved. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito