Contract talks stall school sale

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

PROSPECT — The sale of Community School remains in a holding pattern as attorneys for Prospect and Region 16 work to hammer out a sale agreement.

Almost two months have passed since the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, agreed to sell the former Community School to the town of Prospect for $873,000.

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

Although the two sides have agreed to a sales price, the final decision rests with voters in Prospect, who have to approve buying it, and voters in the region, who have to OK selling the school.

But before the Prospect Town Council moves forward with a town meeting to vote on buying the school, which would set the stage for a vote in the region, officials want to have a sale agreement in place.

Attorneys for both sides have been in talks for weeks but are no closer to reaching an agreement then when they started, Prospect Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin said at last week’s council meeting.

“Right now we are no closer to getting language in the purchase and sale agreement that would allow us to move forward,” Galvin said.

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 ratio. 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 region to return the money 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.

“As of right now they have not been able to put language in there that the town found favorable,” Galvin said of the contract talks. “So, right now, essentially nothing has changed.”

Galvin said the talks can’t go on forever. He said the council will most likely have to accept the region’s terms eventually or withdraw its offer. If it withdraws its offer, he said, the school would likely be put on the market, which could go either way as far as Prospect is concerned.

Galvin said a buyer could offer more money for the building. If so, he said, the town would have to match the offer if it wants the building. Or, he said, no offers could be made on the school and the town could get it for less than the current offer.

Galvin said officials must also take into account potential legal action by the town of Beacon Falls when it decides how to move forward.

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 this 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 Oct. 14 before unanimously setting the price at $873,000, which took into account some of the repairs needed.

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 repairs needed to the building, the school board is forcing Beacon Falls pay to fix a building that they will no longer have a connection to.

Beacon Falls officials have vowed to file an injunction if the sale of the school moves ahead as it currently stands.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik said at last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting the town and its attorney are continuing to monitor the process closely.

As the sale process has bogged down, at least one member of the Region 16 school board is pushing for a resolution.

School board member Priscilla Cretella said at last week’s school board meeting that a timetable needs to be put on the talks. She said there was a big push in November to move forward with a sale, but now the process is dragging on.

Cretella said if the sale isn’t going to work out as it stands, then the board needs to put the school for sale on the open market.

“Something has to be done, and time has gone on and it is not on our side,” Cretella said.

Luke Marshall contributed to this article.