By Beth David, Editor
Kirk and Company held its third and final public meeting to discuss options for the Rogers School building in the center of town. At a well attended meeting in the audtorium of Town Hall on Thursday, 5/11, the public heard the final results of a months-long study.
Brett Pelletier of Kirk & Co., and Albert Rex of MacRostie Historical Advisors told residents that most commercial options would not be viable for the old building.
The school was donated to Fairhaven by town benefactor Henry Huttleston Rogers in 1885. It was used as an elementary school until 2013. The empty building has been a headache for the town, which could find no serious buyers for the property.
The Oxford School, in North Fairhaven, had a similar fate until a buyer responded to the Request for Proposals. The Stratford Capital Group is moving forward with plans to put senior housing there. Neighbors of the Rogers School are vehemently opposed to that idea for the property in the center of town.
At the meeting on 5/11, Mr. Pelletier and Mr. Rex told residents that they carefully studied and estimtated costs to ascertain the most feasible avenues to rehabilitating the building and making it be active again.
The consultants acknowledged that town residents seemed unwilling to let the building be sold because the town would lose control of it.
They also outlined the challenges of making the building viable as commercial office space or even residences.
They concluded that, with the challenges the building faces,d funding sources available, and public sentiment, that the best option is for the town to try to identify a non-profit organization to occupy the building on a long-term lease basis. Non-profit groups have access to grants that a for-profit and the town do not have access to. The town would also be encouraged to expend resources to help the group get the building ready for occupancy.
The building needs to be made accessible up to the standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also may have some hazardous materials, such as asbestos that will need to be removed.
The report estimates the costs of remediation as starting at $3.6 million up to $8.425 million, depending on the uses; and up to $16.9 million to use it as an elementary school again. Estimated uses include various kinds of housing, such as multi family rental ($8.425 million), condos (from $6.945 million to $8.425 depending on what kind), school administration/ municipal offices ($5.4 million).
The report also breaks down different options for partial use of the building, or the addition to bring down costs.
The report also analyzes the income the various scenarios might generate, to rate viability for a for-profit company.
They estimated costs to demolish the building at $745,000, which includes $432,100 for hazardous material removal.
Other possibilities include demolition and making house lots at the site, demolishing only part of the building, etc. All have associated costs included.
Mr. Pelletier and Mr. Rex said they took public comment into consideration when making their decision to recommend a non-profit for the site.
Mr. Rex said the idea is to find a group that would make it more of a “passion project,” rather than an income generating property. The result would still be to keep the building open and active.
He used examples of similar projects that brought artist groups into old buildings.
Residents in the room seemed to like the idea, with some offering suggestions for funding.
Mr. Rex said that different funding opportunities are available for public-private partnership projects.
The town, he said, should not look to maximize revenue from the building, but should, instead, look to get the building active again.
It is easier, he said, to find grants for uses, than it is for buildings.
“It takes a core group of people to do it, and a level of trust between the town and the non-profit,” said Mr. Rex because it is a long process.
“It’s not about the dollar value,” he said because the building will never generate enough income to justify the millions required to get it renovated.
He said he has seen it happen before and guaranteed it would work.
Resident Cathy Delano said that putting the right organization in the building could make Fairhaven a destination.
Making the building “vibrant,” she said, is “something that is hard to attribute a dollar figure to.”
After all was said and done, though, it was Robert-John Constantine, who got the biggest rise out of people, and found himself surrounded by hopeful residents after the meeting ended.
Mr. Constantine drew applause when he said his non-profit, South Coast Innovator Labs, Ltd., was very interested in the building. He said they lost their home recently and have been scrounging for space in various locations.
The organization provides “makerspace” to people who have an idea but need a place to work on it. Members of different professions collaborate, socialize, work on projects and create products.
“It was hard not to fall in love with the building,” said Mr. Constantine.
The group is working on becoming a 501C3. They have been actively looking for a new home, and have been using public spaces.
“It’s a beautiful building, it’s a beautiful community,” said Mr. Constantine, after the meeting.
To learn more about his organization, visit http://scilspace.org/
Mr. Pelletier and Mr. Rex will present the report to the Fairhaven Selectboard. The presentation is available on our website: www. NeighbNews.com under Archives.