School board keeps options open with Algonquin

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As part of a three-part school building project in Region 16, Algonquin School in Prospect will be demolished and a new district office will be built on the site. However, school officials have not ruled out the possibility of selling the land and changing the plans for the new office. –FILE PHOTO

PROSPECT — As the three-part school building project forges ahead in Region 16, the Board of Education is keeping its options open as far as the Algonquin School property is concerned.

The plan, as it stands now, is to demolish the school in Prospect and build a new office for the district, which covers Beacon Falls and Prospect. However, school officials are keeping the door open to selling the 6.7-acre property on Coer Road. The board is not listing the property, but is willing to listen to offers.

The new district office is the smallest part of the project, which includes building a new elementary school at 75 New Haven Road in Prospect. When the new school opens in the fall of 2014, Algonquin and Community schools in Prospect will be closed.

The project also includes renovations to Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls. Last December, voters approved bonding roughly $47.5 million for the entire project at a referendum.

Although the office is the smallest part of the project, the plans have been the most fluid.

The plan, when it went to referendum, for the new office called for demolishing the two-story wing of Algonquin and renovating the remaining part for the office. It was estimated to cost nearly $2.4 million prior to the vote. As the Building Committee in charge delved deeper into the project following the referendum the estimated cost for the new district office rose due in large part to higher than anticipated expenses for abatement.

Earlier this year, the board voted to demolish the school instead and build a new office on the site to make the project more cost effective.

At the board’s Oct. 24 meeting, estimates put the district office project at roughly $560,000 or 23.7 percent over budget. That figure has since come down to roughly $200,000 over budget according to school officials.

The cost to demolish and abate the school is estimated at $1 million.

At the meeting, Vice Chairman of the Building Committee Robert Spear suggested the board sell the property and stated that by not selling Algonquin School, the board is losing $1 million, according to meeting minutes. Spear could not be reached for comment.

If the board were to sell the property, the other options for the office would be building it on the new school site or renovating Community School in Prospect, which under the current plan is slated to be sold. The town of Prospect has expressed interest in buying Community School for municipal use.

After Spear’s suggestion, the board set forth exploring the possibility of selling the school and land as is.

The board reached out to commercial real estate broker Tom Hill for his opinion on potentially selling the land. After inspecting the property, Hill wrote in a memo to the board that he estimates the value of the parcel on the market to be $720,000 to $919,000.

“I was very impressed with the conditions of the school and the large amount of land,” Hill wrote.

According to records in the Prospect Assessor’s Office, the property is assessed at roughly $2.8 million.

Hill wrote he had a customer, who is confidential, that wanted to look at the facilities for their “alternative use,” which he wrote was not controversial.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said he drove past the property with an interested buyer, who was not identified, after school on Nov. 26. He said last week that he had not heard back from Hill.

When the issue of selling the school was raised during the board’s Nov. 28 meeting, the board decided not to list the property for sale citing too many uncertainties.

“There are way too many questions at this point,” board member Nazih Noujaim said.

If the board sold the property, Noujaim said it would lose the school’s annex and 10,000 square feet of storage space would have to be found elsewhere. Also, he said the town of Prospect would lose the school’s parking, which is used for activities at Canfield Park.

Noujaim added that any buyer is going to want to move in right away and may not be willing to wait two years while the new school is built.

Another concern raised by some board members was that selling the property was not the plan presented to the public at the referendum.

When the project went to referendum, the plan was to use the school site for the new office, board member Sheryl Feducia said.

“That’s what I voted for, that’s what my neighbors voted for, that’s what people in both towns voted for,” Feducia said.

Even though the property won’t be listed, James said any legitimate offers will be brought to the board’s attention.

The property is zoned as residential. In order to build a commercial development, a zone change would have to be granted by the Planning and Zoning Commission.