School purchase going to voters

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

PROSPECT — Town officials are ready to move forward with the process of buying Community School from Region 16. Now it is up to voters to allow them to take the next step.

At a special meeting last week, the Town Council set a town meeting for Feb. 29 to vote on purchasing the former elementary school for $873,000 and spending up to $400,000 to make repairs to the building. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the school, 12 Center St. The school will be open at 6 p.m. so residents can tour the building prior to the meeting.

Community School 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, including recreational activities and for civic organizations. The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved selling the school to the town for $873,000 in a controversial decision last October.

Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin said he hopes voters understand the importance of Community School as part of the fabric of the town.

“It’s had a glorious past and it’s got a lot of future left for folks in the town of all ages,” Galvin said. “We’re going to need them to come out and echo that to us, that it is important to them also, because we are spending their money to buy it.”

Town officials plan to borrow the $873,000 to buy the school. Officials will ask voters to approve an appropriation of up to $400,000 from the general fund surplus to make repairs.

The general fund surplus stems from a year-end balance in Region 16’s 2014-15 budget, which ended with a surplus of about $1.44 million. The school surplus will be divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect using the student population ratio of roughly 60 percent for Prospect and 40 percent for Beacon Falls.

The Board of Education is considering transferring 1 percent of the surplus into a capital non-recurring account, which would have to be approved by voters. Even if the transfer moves forward, Prospect would get back roughly $600,000.

Galvin said the town is planning to earmark $400,000 of the roughly $600,000 to make critical repairs to the Community School building.

“We are getting $600,000 of the taxpayers’ money back and were are looking to spend it on this worthwhile topic,” he said.

If Prospect voters approve buying the school next week, the deal is far from done. The school board must hold a district meeting to get authorization from voters in the region to sell the school.

Beacon Falls officials have also vowed to block the sale, if it moves ahead, by filing an injunction in court. A Freedom of Information compliant, filed by Beacon Falls First Selectmen against the school board for its vote to set the sale price, is also pending before the Freedom of Information Commission.

Beacon Falls officials contend that the sale price is not fair market value.

The towns and the school board each got an appraisal last year on the school, ranging from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000. The Town Council’s original offer for the school was $783,350, which took the average of three appraisals and subtracted $545,000 for repairs needed to the building. The school board discussed this offer in an executive session Oct. 14 before unanimously voting to set the price at $873,000, which took into consideration some of the repairs needed. The Town Council subsequently agreed to the price.

At its Oct. 28 meeting, the school board voted 3-0 with two abstentions to sell the school to Prospect for $873,000.

Beacon Falls officials also feel that taking into account repairs needed to the building in the price essentially forces the town to pay to fix a building it no will longer be associated with. The money from the sale of the school will be returned to the towns based on the student population ratio. Based on the $873,000 sale price, Beacon Falls would receive about $349,000.

Luke Marshall contributed to this article.