Granting the school $223,200 for the purchase faced the most debate while residents said the town should not be taxing itself for a private business. Others, however, felt the school is too important to the town to possibly lose. The warrant eventually passed.
"We shouldn't be taxing ourselves for a private school," resident Matt Holland said.
Holland encouraged residents to vote the article down not just on principle but also because the historic building could come with unexpected upkeep costs, and he cited a lack of need because a new library and youth center are to be built. The school could probably find a better deal without town support, he said.
Preschool Trustee Julie Munemo said the school has a financial plan to account for any unexpected maintenance costs and that school officials have searched for another location to little avail. All other locations were not not feasible financially, she said.
"We don't have any plans to come back to the town and ask for more money," Munemo said. "We'd very much like to stay where we are."
Ronald Turbin, a member the Board of Selectmen and the preschool's board, added that the church's assessment is actually higher than the asking price. Resident Andy Burr said the building is structurally sound.
Maury Lawson said the service provided by the preschool is an invaluable resource to working parents.
"I am a busy working mom and thanks to these teachers, my daughter had the best start," Lawson said.
Donnie Brooks, assistant football coach at Williams College, said that when he first moved to town and was working as an intern he did not have much money to spare, and the school helped his struggling family.
Preschool Board of Trustee Julie Munemo presented the Community Preschool's case to 301 checked-in town meeting members.
Despite the service the school provides, Malcolm Smith, a member of the Community Preservation Fund Committee, said there are better ways to use town funds.
"Not one person has come to me and said 'we need to save this building,'" Smith said. "There are lots of worthy causes in this town."
Town meeting members also approved two articles regarding the Milne Library's renovation plans. The library was asking the town to serve as the fiscal agent and approve the preliminary designs.
Some residents voiced concern that the town would be on the hook for the remaining renovation costs if the library is unable to raise its portion.
Library officials agreed that the $4.4 million they need to raise is a daunting task, but added they are not asking the town for funds at this time.
"We are confident that this project and design will bring the library into the 21st century," Library Trustee Nancy McIntire said. "There is no request for town appropriations attached to this article."
The library also got support from resident Anne Just, director of the Mason Library in Great Barrington.
Most articles were approved unanimously, including budget appropriations for the town at $6.4 million, the elementary school at $5.3 million, McCann Technical School at $366,466 and Mount Greylock Regional High School at $4.6 million.
A total of 301 town meeting members checked in to this year's meeting.
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One more reason to repeal the Community Preservation Act. If I'm going to pay more taxes I'd rather see my money go towards teachers, cops and other services than ridiculous projects like this one and the myriad of barn restorations at Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation.
Now that the preschool is on the road toward stewardship of an important piece of the fabric of downtown Williamstown, I am sure they could use help. Young involved people like Matt Holland could volunteer to help. To those who much has been given - musch is expected.
I think the way the CPA has been allocating funds recently is wrong -- using millions for Cable Mills and Church Corners was not, in my mind, the best way to use the funds, nor has either done much for the town. This is another example -- using funds so that the preschool can purchase the church is not using funds the way the CPA was sold to the voters years ago. But, we live in a democracy and the voters have spoken, so this is the direction we will continue.
Let's please put a repeal of the CPA on the ballot for next year. The taxpayers deserve the opportunity to rethink whether this is still a good deal. Especially now that the State match is down to 25% from 100% (when it was sold to us) and the trend towards taxpayer money going to subsidize private enterprises like Rural Lands and the Preschool. This is fundamentally different than what I thought I voted for.
It was once mentioned to me by a town official that if I wanted to reduce my real estate tax bill I should tell the controlling parties to stop spending money foolishly. This is just an other example of special interest groups being satisfied at tax payer expense.
One of the purposes of the CPA is to preserve historic buildings. The church on the corner of Main and Water Streets is a historic building. If it was sold on the open market it most definitely would have been torn down by the buyer to make room for a new building. The preschool is committed to keeping the church building intact, so the only way to preserve the church building was for the preschool to buy it.
The preschool has been in town for almost 40 years. The only place in town that was feasible for them IS at this church. If someone else bought it, the preschool would have been forced to close.
The CPA funds not only preserved a historic building from being demolished, it also preserved a vital service that has been providing quality care for area children for decades.
I was not sure of this going into the meeting but when I heard that they had a real long-term plan in place, the building was 140 years old, the preschool already used most of the building now, and this was a below market deal for the church which was holding off sale for the good of the community, I was overwhelmingly convinced.
If projects like this don't happen, everything will sooner or later look like Aspen, along with the prices to go with it. Look at Spring Street for an example.
"The purpose of the pre-school in neither conservation, historic preservation or affordable housing."
The only way to preserve the church is if the preschool buys it. Any other buyer would demolish it in favor of a new building. So indirectly, the preschool does have an impact on historic preservation. And affordable housing does not exist in Williamstown. It is an oxymoron.
"The Youth Center should have been required to give their perfectly serviceable building to the pre-school in exchange for the land the town ceded to them on the elementary school grounds."
If the Youth Center's current building is perfectly serviceable, why are they moving? If it is indeed perfectly serviceable, then the town should not have given them free land. They instead, should have given the land to the preschool who would in fact need a space once they were kicked out of the former church.