Prospect agrees to Region 16’s terms

Community School on Center Street in Prospect. –RA ARCHIVE

Community School on Center Street in Prospect. –RA ARCHIVE

PROSPECT — After months of contract talks, town officials have acquiesced to Region 16 to move forward with the purchase of Community School.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved selling the former school to the town for $873,000 in October. 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 plan to use it for a variety purposes, such as recreational activities and for civic organizations.

Since the board approved the sale, the two sides have been discussing the sale process, which stalled over how the school district will return the money from the sale to the towns. The money would be returned to the towns based on the student population ratio, which is roughly 60 percent Prospect and 40 percent Beacon Falls.

Prospect officials wanted the money returned to the towns immediately so they could avoid bonding for the entire amount, if at all, to pay for the school. However, the Board of Education’s legal counsel advised school officials to keep the money as revenue and pay it out to the towns at the end of the school year, Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

Since both sides were at a stand-still, Prospect officials have decided to move forward with the sale on the region’s terms, though they disagree with them.

“There’s no reason for us to delay this for a year because of the advice of the attorneys for Region 16. There is no reason why we couldn’t wrap this up by the end of May,” Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said. “They want the money to go through the books, we give them the money, they send a portion to Beacon Falls, and a half hour later they give us the money back. But that makes sense, so I guess that is why their attorneys don’t want to do it.”

Chatfield said the town wants to close on the school before it incurs more damage and the town can begin making the necessary repairs.

“We want to make sure we own it,” Chatfield said.

During Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, council Chairman Tom Galvin said the town will bond for the money to buy the school. He expects to have bids by the council’s next meeting on Feb. 2.

“At that time, if all of our I’s are dotted and our T’s are crossed, we will establish a date for the town meeting,” Galvin said.

Galvin said the council will also go into the specifics of the purchase, such as what the bond is going cost, during the town meeting.

If the town is able to present and solidify numbers at the next council meeting, Galvin said, the town meeting to vote on the purchase could be held within a week.

“If all goes according to plan, we would get affirmation from those present for the town to move forward with the purchase in which case that would put the ball in the Board of Education’s court to schedule a district meeting,” Galvin said.

During the district meeting, Region 16 would seek permission from voters from both towns to move forward with the sale.

However, if approved, the sale still faces a likely significant hurdle.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik said earlier in the month if the sale moves forward the town would file an injunction on the basis that the town would be hurt because the sales price is too low.

“Our contention is that the process used by Region 16 to provide the opportunity for Prospect to purchase the school was a flawed process,” Bielik said. “We don’t think the purchase price comes close to reflecting market value.”

The agreement to sell the school to Prospect for $873,000 was a controversial one.

Both towns and the school board received independent appraisals — ranging from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000 — for the building and property last year. The council originally offered $783,350 for the school — a price that was derived from taking the average of the three appraisals and subtracting an estimated $545,000 for repairs needed to the building. The school board rejected this offer before unanimously setting the price at $873,000, which took into account some of the repairs needed.

“Our interests are going to be injured by this process that is being used,” Bielik said.

Bielik said he is working with the town attorney to figure out when would be the best time to file the injunction.

Yamin said he disagrees with Beacon Falls’ stance and feels the sales price is a fair one, but respects the democratic process and choices town officials are making.

“They have to do what they feel is in the best interest of the town,” Yamin said.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.