Police charge suspect in theft

The former Prospect Street School is vacant as the borough seeks a buyer for the building. Police this week charged a suspect with the theft of air conditioners from the roof of the school last year. –RA ARCHIVE

The former Prospect Street School is vacant as the borough seeks a buyer for the building. Police this week charged a suspect with the theft of air conditioners from the roof of the school last year. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Police arrested one half of a suspected burglary duo who allegedly caused more than $80,000 in damage to a local school when they stripped several air conditioners from its roof.

Douglas Simmons, 39, of 46 Lines Hill St., was charged in connection with a theft of air conditioners from the roof of the vacant Prospect Street School. The theft caused a leak, which was noticed in November.

The initial theft caused about $1,800 in damage, but a building superintendent later learned that a gym floor beneath the units had buckled due to the water leak. A replacement floor was estimated to cost about $65,000, and the stolen units cost about $13,500, according to Simmons’s arrest warrant.

Police and a repairman found that thieves had stripped parts from four of the air conditioning units on the school’s roof.

The building, at 100 Prospect St., had been used as a preschool until 2012, when the Board of Education moved its preschool programs to Central Avenue School. The board turned the building over to the borough, which used it for storage. The borough has been trying to sell the property for the past year.

Copper hoods and large, heavy motors were stolen from the units, as were strips of aluminum that protected the gutters from water leaks.

Simmons and his cousin, Joseph Gotlibowski, 38, were suspected in a January burglary at the school where copper wiring was stolen. The address the men shared is less than a half-mile from the school, and authorities identified them as metal scrappers.

As police investigated, witnesses told them one of the men was zapped by electricity when he cut through some of the wiring during one of their forays stealing from the school. He was thrown against a door from the jolt, according to Simmons’s arrest warrant.

After that January incident, the men returned to the school several times to loot valuable metals from the building, the warrant states.

Police found several records showing that after the reported theft, Gotlibowski’s girlfriend had sold more than 300 pounds of steel, aluminum, copper and brass at Eco East Recycling in Waterbury. It is unclear how much money they received for the scrap metal.

Neither Gotlibowski nor Simmons wanted to talk to police when they were asked about the thefts.

Simmons was serving a year jail sentence based on an unrelated arrest. He was served with an arrest warrant charging him with the school theft when he appeared Tuesday in Waterbury Superior Court.

Gotlibowski is serving a year prison sentence for possessing narcotics.

Naugatuck officials had a buyer interested in purchasing the Prospect Street School building last year. ICES Inc., a human services agency, was interested in buying it for $800,000; Naugatuck officials were asking $900,000 for the 41,000-square-foot building. That deal, however, fell through before the closing.

Ron Pugliese, CEO of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corp., said damage caused by the theft was not a factor in why the closing did not happen.

He said it is still possible ICES may end up buying the building. Meanwhile, he said, NEDC and commercial real estate agent Tom Hill III continue to show the property to prospective buyers.

Paul Singley contributed to this report.

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