Council takes no action on school purchase

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

PROSPECT — The town is still not ready to move forward with a vote on buying Community School.

The Town Council discussed the purchase of Community School Tuesday night, but took no action as questions remain on how the purchase would play out.

One of the top concerns of Prospect officials is that Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, doesn’t plan to immediately reimburse the town after receiving payment for the school.

“I’m very disappointed in the decision of the school board attorneys that they are not going to allow us to have an immediate turnaround of the check we give to pay for Community School. We are going to have to make it a budget line item in next year’s budget and then, in the revenue sheet, we will have to show the difference and we’ll get the money back. But it is going to make it confusing to some people because the bottom line of the town budget is going to go up for no reason,” Chatfield said.

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.

The Town Council and the Board of Education have reached a controversial agreement on a sales price of $873,000 for the school. Before the school is sold, Prospect voters have to approve buying it and voters in Prospect and Beacon Falls have to vote to allow the school board to sell it.

The money from the sale of the school would be returned to the towns based on the student population ratio, which is roughly 60 percent Prospect and 40 percent Beacon Falls. Exactly when the money would be returned to the towns has proven to be a sticking point in the process.

Attorney John Yarborough, who is working with Prospect on the purchase of the school, said Region 16 wants to hold the money as revenue before returning it to the towns because that’s how the school board’s legal counsel is interpreting the state statutes.

“Since there isn’t anything that says we can pay just a net check for property they are not comfortable advising the regional school district that we can do it. Of course we are arguing that it doesn’t say we can’t,” Yarbrough said.

If the sale moves ahead, the closing would likely happen in February and the town will have two options of how to pay for it, Yarbrough said. The town can make an initial payment of $173,000 starting in September of next year and make seven monthly payments of $100,000, or borrow the money and pay the entire $873,000 at once, Yarbrough said.

The method of payment would have to be determined by the Town Council and voted on at a town meeting, Yarborough said.

The next step in the process would be for the Town Council to set a date for a town meeting to vote on buying the school. However, Beacon Falls officials have objected to the sale price of the school and said they plan on filing an injunction to halt the sale if it moves forward.

Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin said the town might think about having another appraisal and inspection done on the building if the sale does not move forward soon.

“In my banking days, if someone came to me with an appraisal that was done a year ago I would say ‘why don’t you get me a fresh one.’ These appraisals are already between two and four months old. Push this out another three or four months and we’d probably be well advised to get updated appraisals and updated contingency of what the condition of the school is,” Galvin said.

Chatfield said if the sale gets held up, the town could always withdraw its offer and let the school go out to market.

“There is another option down the road. If something isn’t moving or doesn’t go our way, we could withdraw our offer. Then the value might drop a little bit more,” Chatfield said.

The Region 16 school board has said that it wants a decision from the town by its Dec. 16 meeting, according to town officials. The Town Council will meet twice, on Dec. 1 and Dec. 15, before that meeting. It is expected to make a decision on how to proceed at one of those meetings.