By GRACE BIRD
Published: 8/20/2019 5:27:06 PM
Selectboard Chairman Brian DeVriese said the board approved a motion last week to enter into negotiations with the Sampsons. The vote was split: DeVriese and Robyn Provost-Carlson were in favor, while Gloria Cronin Fisher abstained. The board is set to review the application in two weeks, he said.
The Sampsons hope the “art-intensive” school will draw students to the town and fill a void left by the closure of Heath Elementary about two years ago, Larry said.
“It would be a positive representation of the town,” he said.
The pair have two children, ages 5 and 2, Larry said. Their eldest is currently homeschooled and would attend the cooperative, and eventually Waldorf School, if they open.
Larry said he and Rebecca’s idea, which was initially proposed last July, received “some pushback” from board members at the time, and when the couple returned, the marijuana cultivation company Carnegie Arch LLC had offered to buy the school.
However, after the town voted against permitting the Selectboard to sell the school in March and May this year, the Sampsons decided to try again.
DeVriese said he is in favor of considering the application, noting that having a homeschooling cooperative occupy only one classroom “doesn’t preclude other things from happening” in the former school. And eventually, he said he hopes the whole building will be utilized in some way, though he was skeptical a buyer would come forward given the lack of interest earlier in the year.
“It’s going to take a lot of marketing work,” DeVriese said. “It’s going to take some time for people to realize the building’s available.”
The application has received some resistance from town officials. The Finance Committee is opposed to the Sampsons’ application, Chairman Ned Wolf said, because it believes it will “make it harder to lease the entire building.” The committee has also recommended that Heath seek another buyer for the building.
Wolf said an application to lease the entire former school may cover annual maintenance costs, totaling $71,788 from May 2018 to April of this year, up roughly $18,000 from the year before. In addition, the roof is leaking and its repair is expected to cost several thousand dollars.
Former Planning Board member Bob Dane is also opposed to the Sampsons’ application, calling the idea “totally financially irresponsible.”
“Whatever he pays is only going to end up costing us money,” Dane said. “The taxpayers will end up subsidizing Larry and Rebecca’s personal endeavor.”
Former Selectwoman Sheila Litchfield said she disagrees with the current board’s decision to enter into negotiations on the application. She explained that the Selectboard does not yet have enough information about the financial implications of keeping, selling or demolishing the school. And she added that if the cooperative opens, it may require town funds to run if part of the building needs to be heated or if the lease precludes other applications from going ahead.
“To me, it’s very premature because you don’t have the data to know,” Litchfield said.
The town has formed a building use and a facilities committee to determine what should happen to the former school after the town twice opposed its sale to Carnegie Arch earlier this year.
Current Facilities Committee members include Bill Gran, Gary Singley, Sue Lively, Will Emmet and Jim Cerone.
Dane said several residents were unfairly denied a place on this committee, including himself, Litchfield and Betsy Kovacs.
Litchfield said she understood the decision as she believes the Selectboard appointed residents who are deemed objective. However, she added that having residents who are familiar with the issue would be helpful.
“This is a real critical issue and there’s not a lot of time for people who are not familiar with it,” she said.
DeVriese explained the decision, saying the Selectboard “chose the people that were the most appropriate” to join the committees.
Of Dane, he said “it’s not that he wasn’t allowed to join, it’s that we chose others.”
Reach Grace Bird at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.