Board OKs school sale

Voters will have the final say

The former Community School on Center Street in Prospect. –RA ARCHIVE

The former Community School on Center Street in Prospect. –RA ARCHIVE

REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education last week approved the sale of Community School to the Town of Prospect for $873,000, but not without some dissension.

Beacon Falls board members Priscilla Cretella, who is vice chair, and David Rybinski walked out of the meeting when board Chair Robert Hiscox moved the motion to sell the school.

Although Cretella and Rybinski left the meeting, the board still had a quorum. The motion was approved with Prospect members Daisy Laone, Roxann Vaillancourt and Hiscox voting in favor of the sale, while Beacon Falls board members Sheryl Feducia and Christine Arnold abstained. Board member Nazih Noujaim, a Prospect resident, was absent.

“I’m disappointed that it happen,” Hiscox said about Cretella and Rybinski leaving the meeting. “I respect their decision. They’re under a lot of pressure; a lot of negative pressure in Beacon Falls.”

Cretella and Rybinski both wanted to table action on the school sale.

Cretella wanted it tabled due to information regarding appraisals for the property she said the board previously did not have. She also wanted the chance for additional negotiation on the sales price.

“I feel that if we can table this, then we can make a much better decision with additional negotiations on the price,” Cretella said prior to walking out of the meeting.

Rybinski concurred.

In a subsequent interview, Rybinski added he wanted to table action on the sale also because of an outcry from Beacon Falls officials about the sales price. He felt a decision could have been put off for two weeks without hindering the process of selling the school or incurring substantial costs to continue maintaining the building.

“Would the next meeting make a difference? I couldn’t say for sure,” he said.

The sale price of Community School has become a contentious issue among the board, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Project, and the two towns.

Community School, which is located on Center Street in Prospect, was closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Prospect officials want to buy the building and envision using it for many purposes, including recreational activities and for civic organizations.

According to property records, the school sits on 3.26 acres of land and has a gross living area (GLA) of 31,185 square feet.

Both towns and the school board received independent appraisals for the property this year. Region 16 received an appraisal of $1,225,000 from Arthur B. Estrada & Associates, Inc. Prospect got an appraisal of $1,250,000 from Wellspeak Dugas & Kane, LLC. Beacon Falls’ appraisal was done by Sheehy Associates, LLC, and came in at $1,510,000.

The Prospect Town Council originally offered $783,350 for the school. This offer was reached by taking the average of the three appraisals and subtracting $545,000 for what Prospect officials feel are immediate repairs needed for the building. The council hired Resource Monitoring Solutions to inspect the building and provide cost estimates for repairs. The $545,000 includes $225,000 to fix the roof, which leaks in multiple spots.

The school board reviewed the first offer in executive session Oct. 14. The board rejected the offer and unanimously voted to set the sales price at $873,000, which the Town Council subsequently agreed to meet.

Beacon Falls officials, who want the chance to negotiate the sale with Prospect, are upset with the $873,000 price. They contend that the appraisals for the school are “as is” appraisals and took into account repairs needed to the building.

The appraisals done by Arthur B. Estrada & Associates for Region 16 and Sheehy Associates for Region 16 both use the term “as is” when describing the market value the companies reached for the property. The appraisal done by Wellspeak Dugas & Kane for Prospect doesn’t use the term.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik told the board last week that reducing the sales price for work that needs to be done to the building is taking “ two bites of the same apple.”

Bielik asked Donald Sheehy Jr. of Sheehy Associates to clarify his definition of “as is market value.” In a letter Bielik gave to the board and the media, Sheehy states as is market value is defined in his report as, “the estimate of market value of real property in its current physical condition, use and zoning, and as of the appraisal date.”

Sheehy stated in the letter that his appraisal of the market value of the property would have been higher under the hypothetical condition that all of the repairs to the school were completed.

Bielik said the decision the board reached on Oct. 14 was made with incomplete information

“When the board acted they didn’t have all the information they needed in order to make a fair and equitable decision on moving forward with this sale,” Bielik said.

Prospect Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin said the council feels its offer is a fair one. He added that he doesn’t think appraisers are qualified to judge the condition of the building, especially the roof, without physically inspecting it. That is why the council hired Resource Monitoring Solutions, he said.

Prospect officials want the sale to proceed as quickly as possible. They contend that the longer the school sits without repairs the more the building will fall into disrepair and end up costing the region more to maintain.

“The longer the building stays empty the more it’s going to deteriorate,” Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield told the board last week.

The town of Beacon Falls is preparing to prevent the sale of the school to Prospect for $873,000 in court.

The Beacon Falls Board of Selectman voted during a special meeting Oct. 30 to authorize litigation and the filing of Freedom of Information complaints against Region 16, the school board and, and if necessary, the town of Prospect regarding the sale, according to meeting minutes.

According to the minutes, town attorney Fred Stanek said the first step is determining grounds to file an FOI complaint. The next step is determining the proper timing and grounds to file an injunction to stop the sale from proceeding, he said.

Bielik said last week the town is pursuing legal action because the people of Beacon Falls deserve a fair and equitable process.

While Galvin feels the price for the school is fair, he said he understands why Beacon Falls would pursue legal action.

“I think every elected official has an obligation to do what they feel is in the best interest of the taxpayers of their town,” Galvin said.

Voters to decide sale

Even though the school board has approved the sale of the school, the voters in the region will have the final say.

Voters in Prospect will have to approve buying the school for $873,000. Galvin said a town meeting will have to be scheduled in Prospect. He said the meeting likely won’t happen until the second week of November, at the earliest.

If Prospect voters OK buying the school, voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect will then have to vote to allow the region to sell it.

“It goes to the voters; the taxpayers,” Hiscox said. “That’s the beauty of it.”

The money from any sale of the building will be returned to the towns based on the student population ration. Prospect would receive about 60 percent with Beacon Falls getting about 40 percent. If the sale for $873,000 is approved, Beacon Falls would receive roughly $349,000.