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A committee formed to find a reuse for the vacant school came up with a range of ideas but request for interest only attracted two submissions.

Cheshire Considering Moving Town Hall to Vacant School

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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The current Town Hall is a bit cramped; if the Board of Selectmen have an issue of high public interest, their meeting room quickly overflows. 
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen will investigate moving all town offices and the library to Cheshire Elementary School.
 
The Cheshire Elementary School Reuse Committee came before the board Tuesday with a final report and after months of exploring options, recommended utilizing the school as a new town hall.
 
"I think you have really planted a seed here tonight," Selectman Robert Ciskowski told the committee. "We have a lot to think about."
 
The town formed this committee soon after the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee voted to close the school in 2016 and consolidate. Currently, the school district uses the building for its central office and the town holds town meeting in the cafeteria. Other civic events have been held in the auditorium.
 
Selectwoman Carol Francesconi, who also serves on the committee, said the group considered housing, satellite classrooms, commercial kitchen use, day care and even a small café in the facility. She said the town released a request for expressed interest and only received a response from a day care and a dance studio.
 
The town also looked to sell and released a request for proposals, however, there was next to no reasonable responses, Francesconi said.
 
"We really thought that we would have more interest," she said. "Even when we started the committee, we had all of these ideas from the outside yet when we put it out, nothing came back."
 
With little interest in the building, Planning Board member Peter Traub said the only other option would be to demolish it, which the Selectmen felt would be more contentious in town than paying to renovate the building. 
 
Town Administrator Mark Webber said demolition is an option, or perhaps a partial demolition, but noted destroying the entire facility and selling the property would be a great loss to the community.
 
"It is an asset that could not be replicated at any cost," he said. "With the building, the grounds, the playing fields and it is right in the center of town. You could never replace that today and something like that should be taken advantage of."
 
Francesconi said their draft plans would put the town offices in the "new wing" of the building built in the 1960s. This would still leave room for the ACRSD Central Office. She said they may "mothball" the old section of the building dating to the 1920s that is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
 
Ciskowski noted that the building is a pretty big expense to the town and that there are already plans to dump $30,000 into the building to repair part of the aging system he called a "ticking time bomb."
 
He added continuing to pay utilities and maintain an empty building is something the town cannot continue.
 
"If we continue the way we are going it is a dead-end street," he said."I think we did ok the first year but if we continue like we are this is the boat anchor. It is going to sink us."
 
Ciskowski asked Webber where the town would start if the board wanted to move forward right away. Webber said the first step would be to find funding to go through a design phase. He said eventually it would have to go before town meeting for funding -- possibly a few times.
 
Webber said West Stockbridge, where he also is town administrator, moved town hall to its old school. (A number of area towns have repurposed old schools for town offices, including Clarksburg, New Ashford, and Stockbridge.)
 
He said the project was near $2 million – much of which was for asbestos abatement and other compliance issues that come with a change in use. 
 
"It was a lot of compliance but we had to upgrade the HVAC, handicapped bathrooms and things like that," he said. "We had to spend some money ... but with the change of use, you have to meet other standards than education."
 
Ciskowski was concerned that town meeting would not go for such a big project, however, committee member Peter LeFebvre felt there was a public interest to bring life back into the building.
 
"I think you will be surprised by the people who will support this," he said. "The town still will have control over it and I don't think we will have any problems with it."
 
This led to questions about what would happen to the current town hall and although Francesconi said the plan would be to hand it over to the Historical Society, Reuse Committee member Sandy Sloane asked if it was possible to sell.
 
"This is a historical building, is this sellable?" she said. "I think it would a make a great bed and breakfast. I am sure the Historical Society would love to be here, but we would still have to maintain this building."
 
Town Clerk Christine Emerson noted that Town Hall would be a package deal because the complex includes the annex and the police station.
 
Webber said that even if the project is not feasible it is something to investigate.
 
"Consider it an opportunity," he said. "Address it; embrace it." 
 

Tags: cheshire school,   school reuse,   town hall,   

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