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Residents Choose To Keep Bridge Street School Property

Residents voted down a motion at a Town Meeting Thursday to sell the Bridge Street School property to Lexington Partners LLC for $975,000 for an apartment complex and retail.

In the most widely attended Town Meeting in recent years, Suffield residents shot down, by a margin of 321 votes to 134, a proposal that would have sold town property but renovated a beloved old school, as well as bring apartments and some retail to the Town Center area.

First Selectman Ed McAnany pitched the proposal as a way to satisfy resident requests to save the decaying 1924 Bridge Street School building, as well as bring funds to the town to make capital improvements such as Americans with Disabilities Act compliance at the town library.

“We have lost other buildings of a historic nature,” McAnany explained. “The town has a history of eliminating these buildings.... If we want to preserve the building, we have to take steps to do that... there’s nothing magic about this parcel. ”

The school has been closed for eight years now, and is used for library storage and occasionally for police training. Water damage plagues the building, as do other maintenance issues. It would cost the town $250,000 to raze the building and upwards of $2 to $3 million to renovate, according to McAnany.

But the Suffield High School auditorium was filled to capacity with many people who felt the town should keep valuable property in the center with the future in mind.

“It’s magic because it’s open land and it needs to stay that way,” said one resident in the audience during an hour-long question and answer session before the vote.

Thunderous applause resulted after one resident after another stood up to question the sale and object to the proposal. An overwhelming amount who spoke referenced renovating the school for possible future use and keeping the park space as is.

Others mentioned not wanting a sizable apartment complex in town, as well as the desire to keep Suffield from “turning into Enfield.”

Lexintgon Partners LLC owner Kenny Martin and New England Construction representatives held two Town Meetings in recent months to explain a plan for the 3.4 acre parcel. It would have renovated the existing Bridge Street School and also build a 65-unit apartment property in a new three-story, horseshoe-shaped structure built on the open field. The proposal also called for 2,000 square feet of retail on the north side of the school building.  

After a long night of long lines to receive a ballot, hear presentations and sometimes heated discussion, the question was called by an audience member at 8:35 p.m. After several objected to not having their chance to speak, the motion to vote was seconded and carried. Hundreds lined up to cast a yes or no ballot in one of two boxes at the front of the room.

Many residents left the meeting complaining about the process.

“This is why the Town Meeting form of government has to go,” said one man leaving the building. "No one came here with an open mind tonight."

Still, Selectman Tim Reynolds said he respected the opinion of those who opposed the project.

"I think we saw democracy at its best on Thursday night. I was very happy to see the large turnout for such an important issue,” he said Friday morning.

Reynolds, however, believes the proposal would have been good for the town.

“It would have added to the town center and opened up a market for residences that the town doesn’t really have at this time," he said. "The school would have also been preserved. I’m concerned that future development such as Pfyler Place could be stymied because developers may get the perception that Suffield is too tough a town to work with.”

Sami Mehmed Jr September 28, 2012 at 06:35 PM
"Suffield is too tough a town to work with" is an understatement and very diplomatic. As far as democratic, the vote was democratic, however town meetings are no longer true democratic procedures. The entire town needs to be presented with the voting privilege on major plans, similar to normal elections or over the web. Not limited access at 7PM on a Thursday night.
Sami Mehmed Jr September 28, 2012 at 06:37 PM
The town meeting approved applying for the $50,000 state grant for Flyer place. Guess Flyer place development is low impact development and demonstrates no interest in economic vibrancy. Sure, fee money! The NO victory will prolong the life of a decaying building. In turn the Bridge Street School issue will continue for years, and increase the tax burden based on future board decisions. Not to mention using time and resources. Finally, town officials placed all their ducks in order, crossed the T's and dotted the I's, executed on the previous administrations plan directed by the town at a town meeting and the message sent by this town meeting is/was, elected officials continue spinning your wheels on Bridge Street School until a proposal satisfies everyone in town or some alternative compromise can be pushed to approval at a "town meeting". Congratulation to the NO voters. Please continue to enjoy the view of this historic building which the town does not need to support town activity. Maybe, Mr Malloy can use the building as a tourist attraction located on prime Suffield property.
Deborah Leroux September 29, 2012 at 01:24 AM
If economic "vibrancy" is important to you perhaps you should move to a more economically "vibrant" community. One resident pointed out that Enfield is right across the river. They have plenty of economic "vibrancy". You should take a look at their propery values. From the outcome of the vote at last night's meeting it is fairly obvious that the majority of Suffield residents do not want the kind of "vibrancy" that a giant apartment building will bring to town. It was quite obvious that the salvaging of Bridge Street School in the plans was a way for the developer to get his foot in the door to erect that monstrosity on school's piece of property. I am so glad that the people of Suffield are as discerning as they proved to be last night.
Ski Supinski September 29, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Contrary to statements above, it is not necessarily the opinion of the majority of Suffield residents that feel we should not develop the Bridge St. school, but a small core of vocal conservative residents that don't want change. They make it a point to attend voting meetings, whereas the vast majority are not passionate enough about the issues to make the effort. So it does not necessarily represent the majority nor does it necessarily represent Suffield's best interest.
Doriana September 29, 2012 at 07:10 PM
We need a community center for teenagers and organizations to meet. Classes could be held there as well. Citizens of all ages could benefit from recreational options. If kids are not interested in sports,without a car or transportation , there is not much else to do here in Suffield. Then we wonder why some adolescents find drinking a form of entertainment.
Tom September 29, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Parents need to take more responsibility with their children it is not up to others to find things for kids to do it is the parents responsibility just as why they have a need to drink if there is nothing for them to do
Doriana September 30, 2012 at 04:13 AM
You are absolutely right but unfortunately some parents don't for what ever reason and some kids just don't respond. It effects us as a community when they are driving on our roads and partying in public places. It takes a village. There have been several incidents in the last few years of innocent people getting hurt or killed. The next time some teenager decides to drink and drive cause they are bored you could be coming home from work or some one you love could be the driver in front of that teen. It's easy to sit back and judge someone for not parenting but that does not make the problem go away. It still continues to effect us in many ways. We pay for the first responders who have to be called in , we pay for alterative education if they are expelled from school, if they become life time users as the research shows because they started using and abusing at a young age- we pay for that too in support or sometimes through the juvenile justice system. I never had the urge to get drunk or try drugs and so far neither have my kids . For that I am grateful and consider my self fortunate. On Sunday of Suffield on the Green this town was out in full force. People were talking to one another, families we enjoying themselves, couples of all ages were ....
Doriana September 30, 2012 at 04:13 AM
......walking together outside-smiling. Neighbors were catching up, friends were visiting friends that they had not seen in a while. There were a lot of happy faces and people connecting to one another. That's what drew me to Suffield. We need more of that and less of people not respecting the opinion of others. In the end it's all that truly matters. The most important things in life are not things.
Bruce October 01, 2012 at 01:36 PM
We have vo5ed in the twon officals to act on our behalf, and they seem to be competent at their jobs in following the town long-term plans and trying to grow an improve our town. Therefore, it is unlikely that Suffield would become an "Enfield", so that concern seem false. I am disappointed with the vote result and, I think, the short-sighted views demonstrated. I am also disgusted with the low turnout at previous meetings (about 50 people each) and at this vote (about 500 people), considering that we have about 13-15,000 residents - even the 500 people are a very small percentage. I would be very surprised if any "large" business would bother to spend any significant time and money to build a business in Suffield with the closed-minded votes on this project, the library, and the biofuel ones in recent times. I also find it suspicious that the low-ball bidder also seems to be the one involved in the NO signs around town. Considering no future outside building interest, and short funds for maintaining the school building, odds improve that the low-bidder may be the buyer "for a song" in the future. Future votes may be more easily handled by having a vote at the door for people who have already made up their minds, and save them the wasted hours listening to people's "persuasive" emotional stories that will not change their minds anyway. Good luck to Suffield development.
Diana L. Ferrari October 25, 2012 at 10:17 AM
I really don't mind if the town spent some money to tear down that old school. I don't care about some useless building. What I value is the land. That land is located in a prime place. We should preserve that land for Suffield's future needs. How about making a nice town park with swings and seasaws and park benches and some nice trees for now, and then the town will have the land for other future uses when deemed necessary.

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