Select Board roundup: Options for Center School discussed; anonymous donations welcomed

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The Select Board at its meeting Tuesday night considered several issues, including future uses for the Center School property.

Dan McIntyre of the Permanent Building Committee gave a presentation on behalf of the Center School Reuse Advisory Team (CSRAT) on potential future uses of Center School and its property. Because the condition of the building, located next to the Town Common, is deteriorating, the group questioned whether it should continue to be used for municipal purposes.

The building most recently has been used for storage of town documents, with Parks & Recreation making use of the gym. However, due to numerous problems with the heating system and water, the plan is to shut it down.

The original building was constructed in 1928, with a classroom addition in 1950 and a gym in 1980. The total property is 11.7 acres, which includes land behind the building, most of which is undeveloped. The original building is about 14,000 square feet, while the 1950 construction added another 30,000 square feet. The gym is approximately 6,000 square feet.

The town-owned land is split about evenly into two lots. They are separated by a right-of-way owned by Eversource.

McIntyre said a new study of the town’s municipal needs should be done to replace the one from three years ago to more accurately assess the best purposes for the buildings.

Three options were proposed. The least feasible appeared to be rehabilitating the existing site because of issues regarding compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, flooding and asbestos.

The second option was to tear down the 1950 structure — the middle section — and turn the original building into offices, while keeping the back addition (the gym and a few classrooms).

A third option was to keep the original school building and rebuild the middle and back sections, relocating them to the north side of the property. A new wing with two gyms and a soccer field could be added, which also could be used to generate revenue.

“We’re telling the town that you should expect to spend about $20 million, no matter what we do up there,” McIntyre said.

Because of the need for housing and the amount of land, the CSRAT hired consultant Leggat McCall Properties, which recommended that the land would be most valuable for housing with office space. A public-private partnership could be formed to offset the costs. Zoning relief would be needed.

McIntyre recommended that a request for interest (RFI) be put out to see if developers would be interested in creating housing. If so, the next step would be to submit a request for proposals (RFP).

Select Board Vice Chair Amy Ritterbusch suggested that community input be sought through Zoom forums, and McIntyre agreed.

“I really want to urge that we move forward as much as possible,” added Member Mary Jo LaFreniere, noting the problems with the building. She also suggested senior or affordable housing partnerships with the state or federal governments.

McIntyre said he hopes the needs assessment will be completed in the fall, and the RFI should be ready by the winter.

ADA Oversight Committee discussed

Town Manager Norman Khumalo asked the board to reconsider the role of the ADA Oversight Committee, suggesting that steps be taken to make it a formal commission.

“I think in the spirit of acknowledging our shared humanity as well as our commitment to inclusion that we should all work hard to find members for it,” he said.

“My suggestion is to ramp this up to the level of a commission, as is allowed by the state statutes,” Khumalo continued. This could be helpful in obtaining grant money for accessibility projects. The decision would need to be voted on at Town Meeting.

Chair Irfan Nasrullah made a motion, which was unanimously approved, for the Town Manager to create a revised charge for the committee and work on a recruitment proposal.

LNG facility policy adopted

Khumalo proposed that the process about notifying the town departments about developments at the LNG facility on Wilson Street go through his office. This would allow information to be distributed from a central location. The policy was adopted unanimously.

LaFreniere also suggested that an annual LNG facility report be given to the board, which Khumalo agreed was a good idea.

Town website overhaul suggested

The board discussed the need to update the town website in order to make it more easily accessible to the public. Ritterbusch and Muriel Kramer volunteered to work with Khumalo on modifications. Ritterbusch mentioned the difficulty in accessing board and committee information.

Anonymous donations welcomed

The board voted unanimously to accept three anonymous donations to benefit the town’s public service departments as well as the Hopkinton Senior Center.

One $20,000 donation was designated to benefit the needs of the Hopkinton Fire Department, while a second donation of $20,000 was allocated to the Hopkinton Police Department. The Hopkinton Senior Center is the beneficiary of a $25,000 anonymous donation.
Member Brendan Tedstone expressed gratitude on behalf of the board for the nameless giver’s largess.

“This is a very, very generous — three generous donations — by an anonymous donor,” he said. “If they had any idea how timely and how helpful those donations are … Maybe they do, I don’t know.

“We would not be doing our job as a board by not recognizing what a generous donation [this is] and how appreciative we as a town are,” Tedstone continued.

New town staff members appointed

The board unanimously approved three appointments for town employees recommended by Khumalo.

Renee Chen was appointed as deputy assessor. Laurie St. John and Susan Sadhegi were named as administrative assistants in the Finance Department.

NOI filed on Mechanic Street solar project conversion

Khumalo announced that a Chapter 61A Notice of Intent was filed for the solar property at 0 and 5 Mechanic Street and Wood Street.

Tedstone asked if the town would have the right of first refusal if the property owner decided to do another type of development other than a solar array. A solar farm provides tax advantages that could be lost in a conversion. Khumalo said that town counsel would need to be consulted.

Khumalo added that an appraisal of the property would need to be conducted, which would provide information for a public hearing.

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