City and School Discuss City Center Land Transfer

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Thursday May 03, 2018

Discussions continue regarding the city’s recent request to the school board for a land transfer of approximately .7 acres of the Rick Marcotte Central School (RMCS) property to assist in the build of a new City Center municipal building. Details of the request have been complicated by the individual timelines of the city and school district, which are not in sync with each other.

At the April 4 school board meeting, after hearing from Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard and Project Director Ilona Blanchard about the city’s request, questions and concerns remained for the board. Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald proposed forming a short-term subcommittee in an effort to come to some form of agreement that would satisfy the needs of both the city and the school district. The subcommittee, made up of City Manager Kevin Dorn, Council Chair Helen Riehle, Superintendent David Young, Fitzgerald, and Bridget Burkhardt, board member, met twice in late April where conversations around a revised document took place.

Fitzgerald reports that the April 25 subcommittee meeting was productive. She said, “The city provided a good summary of key elements of a revised proposal. The district’s primary concern is and has always been, balancing the space (inclusive of land) needs which might result from the Master Planning and Visioning activities currently in progress and ensuring the value of district assets on behalf of the community.”

Among the district’s considerations are timelines around Master Planning and Visioning work, particularly regarding the pending results of airport related noise testing being conducted at Chamberlin School. Operational issues with the current site plan at RMCS were discussed as well, including parking, traffic flow, and safety/security concerns.

However, the city wants to move forward immediately. Their goal is to bring the question of incurring debt for a library/city hall/community center to the voters in November.

Dorn presented a revised document to the committee for discussion. It outlines the basic premise of the city’s proposal as well as benefits to the school district and the city. “We have moved beyond a written LOI and we are just trying to reach agreement on the terms of a deal,” Dorn said.

The city’s document notes the benefits of the land transfer to the city would be to provide adequate space to build the preferred design of a library/city hall/community center plus parking to support the facility, and adequate land to create an appropriate turning radius on Garden Street for large vehicles like school buses and fire trucks. A list of potential benefits to the school district includes uninterrupted and permanent legal access to the RMCS parking lot (with sidewalks) from two directions, expanded parking at the RMCS lot, a municipal building with a library as a neighbor, and the ability for buses to use Garden Street once constructed.

Also listed as a benefit to the district, is the offer for them to use the current City Hall for administrative offices once the building is vacated by the city. The city would extend a 180 day window for a right of first refusal to the school district for the 575 Dorset Street property (City Hall) exclusive of the northern half of the property which serves as the fire station, and associated parking. The document states, “The window will open on a mutually agreed upon date. Recognizing the significant need of the school district for combined office space and the opportunity presented by vacating other spaces within the schools, there would be no cost to the school district other than possible administrative or legal fees for the transfer of or lease of the property to the school district.”

In addition, the city’s document discusses the possible creation of a roadway connection through the back of the Allard Square building to Mary Street. There is currently a permit condition on the Allard Square building that the owner must provide an easement to the city for east to west access across the north end of the property connecting Mary Street to the RMCS parking lot. Also noted is the possibility of working with a neighboring property owner to acquire additional short to medium term parking, and a public/private partnership for a multi-level parking garage.

While Dorn says he is optimistic about the discussions with the district, he feels it is also important to have a backup plan and as such, says the city has “engaged our architects to begin the design of a community center that fits completely on our property. It would need to be a higher structure, but we believe it can be redesigned to fit. Unfortunately it will not likely have many of the design features that are in the original design.” The alternate design would also need to include underground parking, significantly bumping up costs.

The school board has three upcoming meetings, May 2, May 16, and May 17. This topic is warned for discussion under City and School Collaboration at their May 2 meeting, but could be warned for action at one of the meetings later in May.

According to Dorn, the city council will be briefed on the latest developments at their May 7 meeting, and if the school board signs off on the elements of the deal later this month, the council will consider it during their May 21 meeting.

Fitzgerald said, “We collectively will work very hard to accommodate all parties’ needs.”


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent