Voters agree to sell Community School

Paul Cummings, of Beacon Falls, casts his ballot on the sale of Community School during a Region 16 district meeting March 23 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. Voters approved selling the school to Prospect. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Paul Cummings, of Beacon Falls, casts his ballot on the sale of Community School during a Region 16 district meeting March 23 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. Voters approved selling the school to Prospect. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — Community School won’t be the property of the Region 16 school district for much longer.

Voters in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved selling the school to the town of Prospect for $873,000, 258-26, at a March 23 district meeting. Prospect voters overwhelmingly supported the sale, 246-9, while Beacon Falls voters rejected it 17-12. A little less than 3 percent of the voters from both towns turned out for the district meeting.

Community School, located at 12 Center St. in Prospect, was closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Prospect officials plan to use the building for a variety of purposes, including recreational activities and as space for town civic organizations.

The sale is expected to be closed in early July. After the sale is finalized, the money for the school will be returned to Beacon Falls and Prospect. The money will be divided between the towns based on the student population ratio, which is roughly 60.8 percent Prospect and 39.2 percent Beacon Falls. According to the sales agreement, Prospect will get $530,469.72 back while Beacon Falls will get $342,530.28.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said he was ecstatic the sale was approved and thanked the voters for their support.

Prospect voters approved buying the school and spending up to $400,000 to make repairs to the building in late February. Chatfield said work on the building will begin right after the sale is closed.

“As soon as it’s closed we’ll have everything ready to go,” he said.

The sale of the school has been a contentious issue as some in Beacon Falls feel the price is too low.

Both towns and the Region 16 Board of Education got an appraisal last year on the school. The appraisals ranged from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000. The Prospect Town Council originally offered $783,350 for the school. This offer took the average of three appraisals and subtracted $545,000 for repairs to the building.

The school board discussed this offer in an executive session Oct. 14 before voting in public session to set the price at $873,000, which took into consideration some of the repairs needed. The Town Council subsequently agreed to the price and the school board voted Oct. 28 to sell the school to the town for $873,000.

Beacon Falls officials argued the sale price wasn’t fair market value. They also contended that taking into account repairs to the building forces Beacon Falls to pay to fix a facility the town will no longer be associated with.

Beacon Falls officials vowed to fight the sale by filing a court injunction. However, they had a change of heart leading up to the district meeting and will not be taking legal action.

“We’ve reevaluated the economics of it,” Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik said. “Even though we stand by the fact that we believe this is not the fair market value of the property, that to contest it ultimately in the long run will probably cost more than it’s worth it to us to make the fight.”

The week before the district meeting the Beacon Falls Board of Finance unanimously voted to rescind a motion authorizing funding for legal fees to fight the sale.

“The decision was made that it’s in the best interest of Beacon Falls to accept the number, although we disagree with the number, and move forward with the process,” finance board Chairman Joe Rodorigo said.

A revaluation of property in Prospect was completed last year. According to the property card, the Community School property and building was appraised at $947,473.

A Freedom of Information compliant against the Board of Education is still pending. Bielik filed the complaint in November. The complaint argues that the school board violated the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act by failing to fairly apprise the public that discussion and action would be taken regarding setting a sale price to sell Community School at the Oct. 14 meeting.

It’s unclear when the Freedom of Information Commission will rule on the matter, though it’s unlikely any ruling would impact the sale.

Bielik said the town plans to let this process play out.

Prospect resident David Michaud, who voted in favor of the sale, felt the school would be a great asset for the town. Although the building needs repairs, he said, the positives of owning the building, such as having a gym for town programs, outweigh any negatives.

Beacon Falls resident Bob Starkey was among those who voted against the sale. He felt the sales price was too low and questioned why the school board would sell the building for $873,000 when the appraisals came in between $1,225,000 and $1,510,000.

“Of course I’d like to see Prospect get it, even at the lowest end of the estimated price would be fine with me, but why should we (Beacon Falls residents) pay for half the repairs, it’s not even going to be ours anymore,” Starkey said. “You hate to butt heads with the two towns, but it doesn’t seem right to me.”

Following the vote, school board Chair Sheryl Feducia said everyone can move forward now. She said the region isn’t using the school anymore and no one is knocking down the door to use or buy the school.

“I am very happy that it’s going back to people that appreciate the building,” Feducia said.