City and School Agreement Moves City Center Project Forward

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Thursday June 07, 2018

At a joint special session of the city council and school board June 4, a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was unanimously agreed upon to facilitate the transfer of two pieces of district owned property at Marcotte Central School to the city, for the purpose of constructing a municipal building in City Center and creating an easement for the future Garden Street. The agreement includes 0.75 acres of district land needed by the city to move forward on the preferred design of a proposed library, senior center, and city hall, and 0.1 acre to increase the turning radius on Garden Street for larger vehicles such as school buses and fire trucks. These conveyances are subject to voter approval and the city will continue to work toward developing ballot language to place on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot.

The process of arriving at this MOU has been ongoing since 2015. During the initial phase of the district’s master planning and visioning process, many proposals for land exchanges between the city and school district were considered, but none came to fruition. Offers and counter offers were made, then in September 2017, discussions regarding a potential land transfer were tabled. In late March 2018, after a preferred design concept for the Market Street library/city hall/senior center was designated, the city proposed the transfer of property which was necessary for the buildout. A subcommittee was formed and the two entities worked together to create the MOU document, with consideration for the school’s primary concerns around safety, security, and their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

At the June 4 meeting, School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said this agreement takes into account the district’s overriding priorities around master planning and visioning, safety, and fiduciary duties. “As we have gone through the process, I believe this MOU serves to enhance those items at this point...and it allows us to keep options open around master planning and visioning.” City Council Chair Riehle added that she saw this action “as a positive development that allows City Center to go forward as envisioned.”

The district’s attorney, David Rugh, in his summary of the agreement, noted numerous benefits to both parties. In addition to the city receiving .75 acres to build the preferred design for what is being referred to as a Community Center, the school will enjoy an expanded parking lot, stormwater enhancements, having the closest building to the Marcotte School Parcel be a municipal building that includes a library, and providing sufficient space for relocating the school district’s administrative offices to a building immediately across from South Burlington High School and Tuttle Middle School.

In exchange for the school district’s conveyance of the Community Center Access Easement and the Garden Street Easement to the city and subject to approval by the voters, the school district will have the right to exercise the City Hall lease option within 180 days of the city moving its administrative offices to the new Community Center. The school district may lease the current City Hall property for a rent of $10 per year with a minimum initial term of three years, which may be renewed for at least two consecutive renewal terms. This lease option also provides the district with the option to purchase the southerly portion of the City Hall property for $10 upon the expiration of the initial three year term.

According to the draft MOU, “the Parties agree to each work collaboratively to negotiate in a timely manner a formal definitive agreement with draft legal documents as exhibits for the exchange of rights and interests in land as described in this MOU, to be approved by the City Council and School District Board of School Directors prior to August 15, 2018, so that the City and School District may seek voter approval in November 2018 for the exchange of rights and interests in land.”

Should the voters not approve the land exchange or any ballot articles related to the city’s borrowing or use of funds to finance the new Community Center by January 1, 2022, then the exchange will not move forward. Prior to the November 2018 vote, the city and school district will work cooperatively to make information on the agreement available to the public.


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent