My Turn: Heath School building and the town election
By PATRICIA McGAHAN
Published: 5/29/2020 9:03:03 AMFor me, the outcome of Heath’s Selectboard election will affect a major issue facing our town: whether we (1) maintain ownership of and use the former school building to solve current and long term needs of Heath’s taxpayers, or (2) sell the building to ensure that the town center remains unchanged regardless of the long-term negative taxpayer impact.
The two candidates are Brian DeVriese, current Selectboard chair, and Bob Bourke.
Brian works hard on behalf of all Heath residents and taxpayers and has done so selflessly for 21 years. He sees the school property as a long-term solution to our space, safety and fiscal needs.
Bob Bourke is a long-time community volunteer in a number of capacities. He was a strong supporter of the sale to Carnegie Arch for a marijuana facility and is an advocate for selling the school property and preserving the Center as it is today.
The town was convinced in 2017 that we needed a $4,000,000 safety complex to house the Fire, Police Departments, and the Emergency Operations Center. The taxpayer cost was estimated at $1,350,000, given the contract signed by Gov. Deval Patrick for $2,000,000. With this promise, the town purchased a lot on Bray Road and paid for an architectural design for the building.
When the contract was rescinded by Gov. Baker, the town was left with an unworkable architectural plan and an unused lot on Bray Road.
Now we have the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of a safety complex construction by using the school property. By erecting a garage for the safety vehicles and providing space for Fire, Police and EOC needs within the former school building, there is no need for site clearing, no bringing in utilities, no need to build office space or sanitary facilities.
This plan offers the lowest cost solution to providing our first responders with the safety complex we desperately need. It also enables the Highway Department to utilize the extra space in the town garage for the vehicles currently stored outside and vulnerable to winter storms and reduced life span.
Using the school and selling Bray Road relieves us of the added burden of principal and interest on that property.
There are significant costs to maintaining two 100-plus-year-old buildings as opposed to the 25-year-old former school building. Those costs do not include the additional funds needed to make Sawyer Hall and Community Hall ADA-compliant, energy efficient, and up to code. Neither center building can accommodate our Annual Town Meeting.
Rather than spend many thousands of dollars on these old buildings, we already have the solution in a building we own outright that has adequate space for mixed municipal, educational and recreational use with the added bonus of producing income ($7,300 this year and would have been more had corona virus not caused the building to close).
The claim that the school uses too much energy ignores the fact that we can reduce energy costs by using Green Communities grants for all our buildings. The school property also provides the most suitable location for a solar energy array to meet all our municipal energy needs.
Selling the school property assessed at $4,000,000 at a giveaway price might bring our tax rate down for a year, maybe two, but in the long run it would cost us dearly.
It seems to defy common sense to sell the town’s newest building and most valuable asset at a loss, with no resources or revenue to solve our current and long-term future needs. All this just to preserve the Center as it is rather than look for progressive ways to bring it to life.
Patricia McGahan is a Heath resident and taxpayer.