Beacon Falls exploring legal options with school sale

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

BEACON FALLS — Beacon Falls officials are preparing for possible legal action to try and prevent a proposed sale of Community School to the Town of Prospect.

Following a joint special meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance Oct. 21, the finance board unanimously approved a motion to grant First Selectman Chris Bielik the authority to pursue legal options to block the Region 16 Board of Education from selling Community School to Prospect for less than what officials feel is fair market value. The motion allows Bielik to spend money on legal counsel.

As first selectman, Bielik said, he has a responsibility to act to protect the rights of Beacon Falls.

“I try always to act in what is in the best interest of the Town of Beacon Falls because that is what I’m charged to do,” he said.

The consensus among officials on the Beacon Falls boards is the $873,000 price the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, and the Prospect Town Council have agreed to for Community School is too low.

Community School, which is located on Center Street is 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, for civic organizations and possibly an emergency shelter.

Both towns and the school board received independent appraisals for the property this year. Region 16’s appraisal came in at $1,225,000, while Prospect got an appraisal of $1,250,000. Beacon Falls’ appraisal was $1,510,000.

The Prospect Town Council first submitted an offer of $783,350 to the school board. This offer was reached by taking the average of the three appraisals and subtracting $545,000, which is the estimated cost for what an independent inspection of the property deemed to be immediate repairs needed to the building.

The school board discussed the first offer in executive session Oct. 14. The school board rejected the offer, and unanimously set the price for the school at $873,000. The Town Council subsequently agreed to increase its offer to meet the board’s price, and submitted a new offer. The school board is expected to take action on the $873,000 offer at its meeting Wednesday night.

Beacon Falls officials contend that since the appraisals for the school were “as is” appraisals they took into account repairs needed to the building and the cost for the repairs shouldn’t be factored into the sales price.

Bielik said the town’s legal counsel, attorney Fred Stanek, is looking into possible options the town can take. He said officials are waiting to see what action the board takes Wednesday before moving forward.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the sale of the school is a matter for the board to discuss, adding Region 16 doesn’t profit in any way from the sale of the building.

“I do feel we have a fiduciary responsibility to obtain a fair and appropriate price for the property because we have an obligation to the towns of Beacon Falls and Prospect,” Yamin said. “With that being said, we have followed, legally, the process and I would commend the board members for the diligence and collaborative nature they’ve demonstrated through the process to date.”

Once the school board approves selling the building, the voters in Region 16 will have the final say. Prospect voters will have to give their blessing to buying the property. The sale will also have to be approved by Beacon Falls and Prospect voters. The money from the sale of the school will be returned to the towns.

Beacon Falls officials want the school board to let the two towns work out their own deal.

Prospect Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin said the council feels the first offer it made for the school was a fair one. Galvin said he understands that officials in Beacon Falls have to do what’s right for their town, as do officials in Prospect. He said the council is waiting to see what happens Wednesday, adding that the council is willing to discuss the sale of the school with Beacon Falls.

“We would certainly be willing to speak about anything,” Galvin said. “We’re not looking to be bad neighbors.”

School board Chair Robert Hiscox, a Prospect resident, said the board is following the right procedure. He said Beacon Falls is represented on the board by its members from the town. The taxpayers in the region will ultimately decide the matter when the time comes to vote on a sale, he said.

Hiscox said there is a harmony on the school board between the towns that board members have worked hard to build and maintain.

“We don’t think Prospect or Beacon Falls,” he said. “We think Region 16.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Well the long and short of it, as a citizen of Beacon Falls and one that has gone to many BOE meetings, I thought they could not sink any lower but they reached a new threshold tonight. Bob Chatfield came in bullied the BOE into conceding and slighting 1st Selectmen Beilik by leaving and not listening to his comments. There were 5 of us in total that complained about this ranging from 1st Selectmen Beilik to several BOF members and normal citizens with 2 of them saying that the BOE and myself that Superintendent Yamin should resign. The chair of the BOE (who btw is from Prospect) pushed to vote even though several members said to hold. 2 of the 4 BF members left leaving a quorum and thus it passed. Great job one and all.