The Selectmen have hoped to use the former school as a revenue generator.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — When the Cheshire Elementary School was closed two years ago, the only silver lining to be found was the potential revenue source it might provide to the town through leasing the space privately.
The Board of Selectmen are still working hard to figure out a formula that works.
Tuesday night's meeting was a good example as the board weighed the cost of temporary heating upgrades for the cafeteria versus rent the town receives from tenants. The upgrades would essentially serve one tenant that holds fitness classes in the west wing of the building. The school currently has three lessees: Youth Center Inc., the school district administration, and Berkshire Body.
"Electric heaters look to be the safest and most cost effective means to provide heating for the space," said Town Administrator Edmund St. John III. "We estimate the cost of the installation will be somewhere around $3,500."
St. John said that number just covers the installation and not ongoing maintenance and usage charges.
Selectman Mark Biagini was skeptical the cost of installing the electric heaters would see an acceptable return on investment for taxpayers.
"We just keep putting money in and putting money in [to the school] and we're not getting any return. Even if we got enough money just to cover the cost at least that would be something where it's not coming out of taxpayer money," he said.
Selectman Jason Levesque agreed it needs to be a revenue source and not just rented for renting's sake: "We can't really run a charity off taxpayer dollars."
After St. John estimated a first-quarter lease payment of about $1,700, Selectwoman Michelle Francesconi was doubtful the upgrades would end up being net positive to taxpayers.
"Just on heat alone we will have a loss. It's concerning to me that we are continuing upkeep on that part of the building for such a small amount of revenue," she said. "With the Youth Center, it's a non-profit organization, it's serving the community. This is a private fitness program. I'm uncomfortable putting money into that space. As a representative of the town, I feel it's not in our best interest. It's not cost effective for the town. I personally would like to see what we can do to get out of the lease."
Biagini wants to use caution when it comes to the lease agreement.
"We have to weigh it out. If we break the lease is it going to cost us more money in the long run? Than just to do the heat until April [when the lease is up]," he said.
Highway Superintendent Bob Navin, who has been helping St. John and the board assess the physical needs of the school, also sees the lease as a legal pothole.
"You break that lease, you're essentially putting them out of business. There are going to be some legal repercussions. They have no other space right now."
The Selectmen decided to take up the topic next week and try to find a better solution in the interim.
There was good news concerning the roof at the fire station. The town has been using stop-gap measures to keep the building weather tight and this week found out repairs might not be as bad as expected.
"I met with David Tierney (of Tierney Construction) at the fire station. The situation looks better than we first anticipated. We may only need to fix a small part of the roof," said St. John.
It was initially feared there was structural repair needed but that may not be the case now.
• St. John is also researching Town Hall technology upgrades. Some computers in town still run on Windows 7, which will stop being supported by MicroSoft early next year.
"I met with Neonet (a computer consultant out of Great Barrington) and we spent about an hour going through all our inventory at Town Hall and the Police Station. They are going to provide us with a plan moving forward. Our hardware seems to be in decent shape but a lot of the software is going to have to be upgraded," St. John said.
• St. John announced a grant of $3,375 to replace the cabinets in the kitchen at the Community Center. The grant comes from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation's Barrett Fund.
• The Selectmen has tentatively scheduled two other meetings this week in anticipation of receiving some final pieces to the Green Communities application. St. John said the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is wrapping up the paperwork and hopes to deliver it shortly. These pieces include an energy-reduction plan and a fuel-efficient vehicle policy. Both are required by the state to qualify as a Green Community. The state has awarded more than $44 million in grant funding to municipalities since the program's inception. The meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will be canceled should the reports not be ready so check the town website.
• The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 6:30 p.m.
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Hoosac Valley Considering Phased-In, Hybrid Model for Schools
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley Regional School District is expected to eliminate the full in-person education model from its plans for reopening.
Superintendent Aaron Dean said on Tuesday morning that the School Committee next week will decide what school will look like in the fall and that it is leaning toward a hybrid model.
"In next Monday's committee meeting, I am planning on sharing the timeline and framework of instruction for the coming school year," Dean said. "Still many questions to answer, but I'm confident we'll get there."
School districts throughout the commonwealth have been asked to design three education models in preparation for the next school year. Plans have included a fully remote plan, a hybrid plan, and the state preferred full in-person model that requires students to be spaced out.