Thanks to a consolation from five elementary schools to three in recent years, the Waterford school district has saved thousands of dollars in utility costs, Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen McCarty said last week.
But the plan left empty Southwest and Cohanzie elementary schools. In the years that have followed, the town has smoothly transitioned Southwest to another use, while Cohanzie remains empty and a burden to the taxpayers, First Selectman Dan Steward said last week in a presentation to the Board of Finance.
Good News First
The former Southwest School is being leased to LEARN, which is using the , Steward said. There is even talk of having LEARN build a new school at Southwest, while the town continues to own the land and lease it to the agency, he said.
The town makes money off the lease, Steward said. It is a six-month renewable lease, and if LEARN wants to break it, they have to notify the town at least six-months in advance, he said.
Also, a cell phone tower is on the property, so the town collects rent from that, Steward said.
Cohanzie Still an Issue
Cohanzie has been vacant since 2008, when the new Quaker Hill Elementary School opened. Originally, a committee of people who live near the school met, and made some recommendations of what they would like to see at the property, Steward said.
One suggestion was to turn it into senior housing, an idea Steward supports. He wanted to turn the , and suggested the town work with local developer Terry Mitchell, who has experience building low-income senior housing.
After an assessment, the town realized the building could not be reused, and the property was worth more without it. appropriation last spring to hire a grant-writing expert to help secure a $500,000 federal grant to demolish the school and then remediate the property. Mitchell also applied for a federal grant to build the low-income senior housing.
The federal government rejected the applications for both grants, Steward said, leaving the town with an unwanted building.
“It becomes more and more of a liability every year,” Steward said.
So What Now
The property worth more vacant than with the former school on it, Steward said. But demolishing the building and remediating the site is projected to cost between $400,000 and $600,000, he said.
Then, the town will try to sell the property, hopefully for around the same cost, he said. The town hopes to sell it to someone willing to turn it into senior housing or perhaps a mixed use of both senior housing and medical offices, Town Planning Director Tom Wagner said.
The one thing the neighborhood agreed on is it didn’t want a retail outlet on the property, Steward said. Low-income senior housing pays property taxes to the town, but at a lower rate than normal retail or housing, Wagner said.
The school sits on roughly nine buildable acres, Steward said. Currently, the town does spend some money on utilities at the school, he added.