What will become of the old school building located in Wilmington? With the help of Breadloaf Corporation, a committee has been developing a feasibility study for the reuse of the building. On Wednesday, March 19, the public is invited to attend a “visioning” session to hear about the proposed use of the building, and offer their input. Two sessions are scheduled, one from 1to 3 pm and another from 6 to 8 pm. Both will be held at the Twin Valley High School library, and child care services will be available at the evening meeting.
Committee member and Wilmington School Board Chair Phil Taylor says the overall goal is to create something that will continue to be an asset to the community, and is self-sustaining. “The key idea is for the Wilmington School District to divest itself of the property,” he says. “But handing it over to the town would be problematic because there are some operational costs to it. It still has great potential to serve the needs of the community, so we’re trying to set up an operational and business plan in which it could be transferred to some other entity, and would be self-supporting.”
Since community planning began post-Irene, a number of uses have been proposed for the soon-to-be-idle building. Some have been studied and eventually rejected, like reconfiguring a portion of the building as a combined police, fire, and municipal facility. “For the fire department it wasn’t ideal,” Taylor says. “For the police department, there was a desire to maintain a distance from the community center. There is a possibility of town offices there, maybe the clerk’s office.” Although town clerk Susan Haughwout and volunteers were able to save most of the town records during Irene, the office and safe were flooded.
Taylor says the committee has identified three basic uses for the building, and has even identified two paying tenants who are ready to move in. “The idea is for a community, health, and economic development center that serves three key needs for Wilmington and the valley,” Taylor says. “The primary tenant we’ve identified is the health center. They’re looking to get out of managing their own property and to be a paying tenant. The health center would be an anchor tenant.”
Taylor says the move would also allow the health center to expand their services. “They’re looking at becoming a health and wellness center, so they’d be clustered with things like physical therapy, mental health, counseling services, yoga, and acupuncture.”
A second paying customer would be Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, which is currently renting office space at the former Deerfield Valley Supply building on Route 9.
A community center that would include recreational use and offices for community services would occupy the gymnasium and other offices. “Most of the community center idea is working off the proposal by Janet Boyd and Cindy Hayford,” Taylor says, referring to Boyd and Hayford’s 2000 proposal to create a community center at the former Green Meadows school on Stowe Hill Road. “We’ve found that a lot of the needs they identified still exist, and we’ve been contacted by organizations that still want the space in the community. It’s nice to think that all the hard work (Boyd and Hayford) did is getting picked up right where it was left off.”
Taylor says the community center would also include current uses of the gymnasium for community athletics, school games and practices, Town Meeting, and the Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fair.
The third, and less developed use for the building is economic development. Taylor says the committee hopes to find economic development partners to help guide the planning, but he foresees space that could serve light manufacturing and, with the school’s fiber-optic connection, technology. “We’re trying to stay away from the idea of a business incubator, but we’d like to help businesses get started. There’s a lot of expense in having a viable building or facility and putting a lot of money into that before starting a business up is daunting. To me, that explains why we have a lot of vacant buildings. It’s hard to get started if you have to put $400,000 or $500,000 into a building before you’ve even started making a dime. So we want to look at how we can provide low cost space and the support from the synergy of the location and help businesses become viable.”
Part of the work under Breadloaf’s contract for the feasibility study will be to develop a business plan, including governance and management, business and financial analysis, and funding. Any investment in the building will be supported by income generated through leasing space, Taylor says, although other non-tax revenue, such as grants, may also be used to fund building improvements. “The reconstruction will probably be done in stages,” Taylor says. “When we get leases secured, we’ll be able to spend a certain amount to make those areas of the building functional. I don’t think this will be a multimillion dollar renovation. We’ll look at the revenue stream and see what we can finance.”
The project that results from the current planning process is likely to move forward quickly. Taylor says the key tenant, the health center, hopes to see progress by this fall. And committee members would like to move WSSU into the building as soon as it’s vacated this summer. “Right now, it’s a school liability,” Taylor says. “The sooner we can get tenants in there, the less burden there will be on taxpayers.”