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Cheshire Hears From Building Inspector About School Issues

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Staff
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Building Inspector Gerald Garner and members of the Board of Health inform the Selectmen of their concerns with the Cheshire School.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen met for what members thought was the final time in 2019 until the topic of the Cheshire School came up.
Several questions regarding code compliance and intended versus actual use of the building were raised by the building inspector and the Board of Health on Tuesday night. These issues will be addressed at a special meeting tentatively scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.
The issues started when the Youth Center Inc., which moved into the building earlier this year from its previous home in Adams, let the board know it would be using the kitchen as part of its food program of serving hot meals to students.
Building Inspector Gerald Garner said he knew nothing of the Youth Center's intent to use the kitchen and was generally displeased with the communication from the board when it comes to activities going on at the school.
"When it comes to the school I can't keep being blindsided by things going on there without my knowledge. I heard yesterday, probably around three o'clock, somebody asked me, 'Why are they cleaning the kitchen?' There are things going on there [besides the kitchen issue] already without my knowledge. These activities that go on there I'm kind of getting sick and tired of having to scramble to figure out what to do with this stuff," Garner said.
The kitchen issue is not the only problem the town has as the Youth Center seems to be using parts of the building that are outside of its lease agreement. The group is supposed to be limited to one wing of the building and a fire door and fire-rated wall was installed by the town for this purpose. The door was not to be used as a regular egress and is for emergency only. Garner said as he understood it the fire door was being used frequently and when he walked the school, he noticed the center was using parts of the building it should not be in.
"There's also some S-1 storage use going on in the basement by the Youth Center, which requires a sprinkler system. I only found that out recently. They are storing a lot of stuff in a room and it's full of mold, not black mold, I'm not saying that, but full of mold. My immediate concern right now isn't the kitchen, it's what they're doing in that other part of the building that's full of mold," he said. "All the kids stuff is down there that they are supposedly going to utilize and all that stuff at some point is going to migrate in and out of that space. Now we have a situation where ... this is going to be a Board of Health issue, not locally, but by the state."
Garner's issues don't end with the Youth Center space but extend to other leased parts of the building as well.
"We have to finish the projects we have going on right now. The center that they're doing the dancing in and so forth (fitness class Berkshire Body, which holds classes in the cafeteria) there were doors that were promised to me that were going to be put in that were going to separate that from the hallway that were fire rated doors. That has not occurred. Them being able to use that space was contingent on that being done and it still has not been done. This is becoming a snowball that you're not going to be able to stop," he said.
Garner made the board aware of his displeasure and clarified his role in the process and what he wants to see moving forward.
"There is supposed to be an architect and engineer involved, these activities are happening and they're happening before I'm even in the discussion," he said. "Which is causing a real big problem and a liability for the town, which nobody seems to be addressing."
The former school building has been a thorn in the side of the board for months as maintenance and code issues arise and residents wonder about the viability and profitability of leasing the space. Selectwoman Michelle Francesconi thinks it's time to slow down and reassess the project.
"There are so many other issues beyond just the kitchen aspect and the cooking. Really, I also want an immediate freeze on any potential new tenants. We need to sit back and really regroup on this school," she said. "An $1,100 electric bill for a month's worth of electricity for that building. We're in way over our heads. We're not property managers."
Even during the meeting, the board mentioned some minor work that was going on at the school of which Garner was not made aware.
"This is what I'm talking about. Somebody's going to get hurt, someone's going to get injured. The town is going to be on the hook. We should not be landlords. We are putting ourselves in a position of liability," he said.
Selectman Ron DeAngelis wants to take a closer look at the lease that the town signed with the Youth Center to confirm how far its responsibility goes with regard to the kitchen space.
"How are they forcing it onto us to provide them with a kitchen? I'm missing something here. How are they taking over the kitchen at the school without anybody knowing? If they're starting to use the kitchen and it's not in the agreement why are we even letting them over in that area?" he asked.
Chairman Robert Ciskowski is the only current board member who was serving when the deal was reached and he was unsure what the original agreement was. 
"They originally mentioned to us that they would have to do some basic rudimentary cooking. Maybe like cooking pasta or stuff like that. I was unaware at the time that it would have to be definite with them for the state to have to approve them being there. I was unaware that there was that step," he said. "We did look at the kitchen with them on a tour way back. But to me it was sort of like at the end of that tour, it was a dead end and that the kitchen wasn't going to be used. That was my impression."
"So then it's a dead end. Somewhere along the way we have to take a stand here. We can't just keep writing these checks for what they need because we feel we're obligated," DeAngelis added. 
Since the board members did not have a copy of the lease in front of them and a representative of the Youth Center wasn't present, they decided to schedule a meeting for Friday with Youth Center officials to review the lease and discuss their options. 
The board did finalize plans for the special debt exclusion vote. The town is looking to purchase a used road grader to better keep up with its unpaved roads. The vote will be held at the Community Center on School Street on Tuesday, Jan. 7, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The financial breakdown of the potential purchase will be posted on the town website before the vote. 
After Friday's meeting with the Youth Center, the next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. 

Tags: board of health,   cheshire school,   leasing,   

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Cheshire Community Tag Sale and Bazaar

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