The voters and taxpayers of Suffield will have the opportunity to vote at a town meeting on Thursday, September 27 on the question of selling the Bridge St. School and the land adjacent to it to Lexington Partners, a private developer. Lexington Partners has a plan to develop the site and build sixty-five apartments, six of which would be in the renovated school, and the balance of the apartments on the land next to the school. I am in support of this sale and development, and I’d like to outline the reasons for my position in this letter.
The Bridge St. School was turned over to the Town by the Board of Education in July 2004. The school has been empty since that time and is quickly wasting away. The building is used occasionally for the training of police dogs and for sorting of books for the annual library book sale. Several study committees have looked at uses for the building but the determinations were inconclusive. One suggestion has been to use the building for town office space since the town currently leases space at 230 Mountain Rd. However, at this time some of the functions at 230 Mountain Rd. are being moved back to our current town hall since the probate court has moved out. The town hall annex can also be used for office space at a much lower cost than renovation the Bridge St School. Those renovation costs have been estimated to be in the range of $2.3 million and $3.1 million.
The property has been considered for a new library but that suggestion failed at a referendum last year. Since that time the town has spent over $650,000 upgrading the current library. During the summer of 2011 the Board of Selectmen decided to seek Expressions of Interest from the private sector for developing the property. Based on the interest shown the Economic Development Commission was directed to seek formal Requests For Proposals (RFP). This request was widely publicized. The respondents were asked to include the renovation of the school as part of their plans. Two full proposals were submitted in June as a result of this solicitation. An Ad Hoc Committee made up of members of the Economic Development Commission, Board of Selectmen, Heritage Committee and the Zoning & Planning Commission as well as town staff reviewed the proposals. The Ad Hoc Committee was guided by the Redevelopment Objectives included in the RFP which were as follows. The proposals are compatible with the Town Center Village District, the proposal should complement and stimulate economic activity in the Town Center, the project should expand the tax base and maximize the return to the town, the historic integrity of the building should be maintained and the project must be undertaken by persons with experience in successful real estate development. The Ad Hoc Committee recommended to the Board of Selectmen the proposal presented by Lexington Partners.
The proposed apartments are attractively designed and will add vitality to the Town Center area. The apartments fill a housing niche needed in town for young professionals and empty nesters. Many of us would like to see our children come back or parents remain in Suffield in the time before they can afford the purchase price of a house or after they have sold their home because it has become to expensive to keep. The additional traffic created by this development would be minimal because residents would be coming and going at different times of the day. It certainly would not create any more traffic than when it was a school. Any type of development on that property would create some additional traffic, this is an unavoidable result of economic growth. The Zoning & Planning commission would require a traffic study.
The town would receive $975,000 from the sale of the property. Some of this money could be used for capital projects such as bringing the library building into compliance with disability regulations. The developer would also pay over $100,000 in permit fees to the town during construction. The annual tax revenue to the town would amount to approximately $160,000. There will also be annual motor vehicle taxes paid to the town amounting to about $10,000. The developer would be responsible for lead and asbestos removal and the cost of the boiler replacement which would save the town over $200,000 in costs. This is a very attractive financial picture for the town. The number of school age children in these apartments would most likely be less than ten based on recent studies by Rutgers University in our state. This would bring little additional costs to our school system since our enrollment has been shrinking over the last seven years or so. With so few additional students there would not be a need for additional teachers,etc. and the overhead would remain the same.
Based on the above facts I am asking the voters of Suffield to approve the sale of this property on Thursday, September 27. The town has no use for this property in the foreseeable future and this project will turn the land into a very productive asset. The town meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Suffield High School.
Member of the Suffield Board of Selectmen