WILMINGTON >> School officials are looking to take care of a final piece of business related to consolidation: a vacant building in the middle of town.
"We're trying to follow through and really finish the job and just get the building off our plates," said Phil Taylor, a member of the Wilmington School Board. "We've had this vacant school building for about two years."
A meeting on May 31 at 7 p.m. in the former school's library will address this. Taylor said the intent is to see how the building can be disposed of in a responsible way so the Twin Valley board, which includes Wilimington and Whitingham representation after the towns' schools combined, can focus on education.
An idea for a community center began before consolidation. About 10 years ago, residents voiced a desire to acquire another building in town but the project did not come together. Ever since, Taylor said, the idea has come up at various meetings or planning sessions.
A scoping study by Bread Loaf Corporation and the Old School Enrichment Committee looked at housing a community center at the former Twin Valley High School. Their conclusion: some space could be leased to groups and other rooms could be used by the community.
"After that study came back, it was pretty clear that financial sustainability of the project was questionable. It may have been possible but really needed backing or municipal support," said Taylor, explaining that the town would have better access to loans, credit and grants than a new organization or nonprofit.
The Select Board, which never received a formal request to take over ownership, hired Stevens & Associates to perform a study. The group came back with a $4.5 million estimate that involved the relocation of Town Offices and Fire Department to the site. Currently, the only occupant is the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Central Office.
In the meantime, a private investor became interested in the property.
"Having conversations with him, it appeared that the individual was very willing to make some concessions for leasing the community center as well as for access to the school gym," said Taylor. "So we started having conversations."
The result was a decision to issue a request for proposals. While ensuring fairness, Taylor said the process also will let the School Board know if there are other interested parties.
Proposals will need to meet some criteria. The deadline for submitting RFPs is June 27 with selection of a candidate scheduled for July 1.
"We want to see developers who have some access to financial capital, who have a vision for what they want to do with the building so it's not an eyesore of the downtown but actually adds to the downtown area," said Taylor.
He expects residents will vote on whether to authorize the School Board to transfer the property to a private developer on July 7. He said the price likely will be a small sum or token as the new owner will be taking on a few liabilities; the mechanical system needs to be upgraded and an oil tank should be replaced.
The hope is to receive a competitive price on renting back the gym. Due to an easement in the land deed, Taylor said the town will keep the sports field where the Deerfield Valley Farmers' Day Fair is held each year.
"We're trying to get the best we can for the community. We'll see where it gets us," said Taylor. "Our expectation is that this transfer is not going to cost us anything so it's a zero-sum increase in cost to the town."
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.