Unresolved issues hold up town meeting

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

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

PROSPECT — With a several unanswered questions surrounding the purchase of Community School from Region 16, the Town Council opted this week to hold off — for now — on scheduling a town meeting to vote on buying the building.

The council has reached a controversial agreement to buy the former school from the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, for $873,000.

Prospect voters have to approve buying the school. The council discussed how to proceed during a special meeting Monday night.

Council Chairman Tom Galvin sought to schedule a town meeting for Nov. 17. Doing so, he said, would allow the school board to discuss setting a district meeting at its Nov. 18 meeting.

If Prospect voters approve buying the school, voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect will have to vote to authorize the school board to sell it.

Galvin said waiting to schedule the town meeting would likely mean the school board wouldn’t take up the matter until December, after new officers are installed on the board.

Currently, Prospect resident Robert Hiscox is chair of the Board of Education. The chairmanship will return to a Beacon Falls member in December because it rotates following a municipal election.

Galvin said he’s not sure whether the new board chair would be in favor of moving the process forward.

“If we don’t get the ball rolling, I’m not sure when it starts again,” he said.

However, the council took no action in light of several unresolved issues surrounding the purchase.

Attorneys representing the town and the school board have been working on drafting a sales agreement, according to town officials. However, the two sides have not reached an agreement, yet. One sticking point in the talks is exactly when Prospect and Beacon Falls will receive the money from the sale.

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 sales goes through as it currently stands, Prospect would essentially pay Beacon Falls roughly $349,000 for the school. The rest of the money would be returned to Prospect.

Prospect wants the money to be returned immediately following the closing so the town doesn’t have to borrow as much or anything for the purchase. However, according to town officials, Region 16 wants to hold the money as revenue that will be returned at the end of the fiscal year with any surplus funds.

Mayor Robert Chatfield and the town’s legal counsel recommended not setting a meeting.

Since officials don’t have all the information on exactly how much the purchase will cost or exactly how the town will pay for the school, the consensus among the council was to take no action on setting a town meeting for Nov. 17.

“We shouldn’t be putting it out to the public to vote on without full disclosure,” Council member Theresa Cocchiola Graveline said.

The council is expected to discuss the matter again during its regular meeting Nov. 17 when officials hope to have more and clearer information.

While the council figures out how to proceed, officials in Beacon Falls are working on how to block the sale because they feel the price is too low.

Officials in Beacon Falls plan to file an injunction in hopes of stopping the sale as it currently stands.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik said Monday during the Board of Selectmen meeting that the town’s attorney is looking into whether there is grounds to file an injunction before it goes to a region vote or after. Beacon Falls has also filed Freedom of Information Act complaints against Region 16, he added.

The $873,000 sale price for Community School has become a contentious issue among the Board of Education and the two towns.

Both towns and the school board received independent appraisals for the building and property this year, ranging from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000.

Prospect officials additionally hired Resource Monitoring Solutions to inspect the building for needed repairs. Based on the inspection, the council feels that there is an estimated $545,000 worth of immediate repairs that are needed to the building, including $225,000 to fix the roof, which leaks in multiple spots.

The council originally offered $783,350 for the school — a price that was derived from taking the average of the three appraisals and subtracting the estimated $545,000 for repairs. The school board rejected this offer Oct. 14 before unanimously setting the price at $873,000, which took into account some of the repairs needed.

The council subsequently agreed to meet the higher price. The school board approved selling the building to Prospect for $873,000 Oct. 28, but the vote was no longer unanimous. The four Beacon Falls board members either abstained or walked out of the meeting when the vote was called.

Beacon Falls officials contend that the appraisals took into account the state of the building. They feel that by reducing the sales price due to needed repairs, the school board is forcing Beacon Falls pay to fix a building that they will no longer have a connection to.

Luke Marshall contributed to this article.

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