By Beth David, Editor
Approximately 70 Fairhaven residents turned out in force on Tuesday night to give their input on the possible uses of the Rogers School building. Representatives from Kirk & Company, a consultant hired to research the possibilities, took explained that the meeting was to gather information from the public on what they would like to see occupy the building.
Town Administrator Mark Rees and Selectboard member Bob Espindola were joined by Brett Pelletier from Kirk & Company, and Albert Rex of MacRostie Historical Advisors.
Officials told residents not to concentrate on what their ideas would cost, but instead, asked them to focus on what they would like to see. The next step would be for K&C to analyze the costs of the various ideas so the town can decide which way to go.
“We will not be analyzing the ideas [tonight],” said Mr. Rees.
Mr. Pelletier said that historic rehabilitation is a focus, and said it would be a long process to get the building in use again. He said they have toured the building and spent a lot of time talking to town officials. He said the building is structurally sound.
Residents need to tell K&C what they would like to see in the building, he said, and how it will fit in the neighborhood and the town. K&C will then see what economically feasible, and publicly acceptable.
“Obviously, there are pretty strong feelings in town,” about the building, said Mr. Rex.
Ideas from the public included putting an elementary school back into the building, selling it for office space, keeping ownership with the town and renting it for adult education, using it as an annex to Town Hall, using it for school department administration offices, using it for a theater group or a movie theater.
Although cautioned not to worry about the money aspect of their ideas, many residents did, indeed, ask questions about costs of rehabilitating the building, knocking it down or knocking part of it down.
Residents also asked about putting the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mr. Rex said that the Register is a “double edged sword” and might not be worth the restrictions on the building for the grant money available. He also said it does not save the building from future demolition.
Mr. Rex said there are many options for the town, including keeping ownership of the building and issuing a long term lease. Then the town could control what types of activities to on at the building.
He also said the town has different vehicles to use for control of activities on the site even if it sells it, such as deed restrictions and covenants.
Several residents spoke emotionally about attending the school as children and being disappointed that their own children would not be able to attend there.
Many also stressed that Henry Huttleston Rogers gave the building to the town and said it must be used as a school. HHR was the town’s benefactor who donated the high school, town hall and library to the town. The Rogers School was the first building he gave to the town.
Karen Vilandry said that the town might consider putting the cable access studio in the building. She said the plans to renovate the building on Sconticut Neck Road proved that there is money to be found for such projects.
“It’s a very important public building,” said Ms. Vilandry. “We need to retain the Rogers School. Period. It is not a pile of bricks.”
Several other people echoed that sentiment.
There was also some discussion of student population growth or decline, with the clear intent of trying to continue to use the 1885 building as a public school again.
“I could come up with all kinds of scenarios,” said one woman. “If I hit the lottery, but that’s not what people are doing here.”
Mr. Rex said that a lot of the uses people might assume will work there would not be ideal because it is a “really inefficient building.”
He said that just getting the building on the tax rolls is not necessarily the thing to strive for. Some nonprofits might fit in better with the neighborhood. Their analysis will try to figure out the marketability of the building.
He said it might sound good to say they want medical offices there, but there has to be a need for it.
Neighbors also voiced concern about the playground. They said it is a very busy spot and they do not want to lose it.
Doug Brady asked what the “long term vision” is for the building.
Mr. Espindola said the point of the meeting was to “help create that vision for what you want to do with that property.”
“We will crunch the numbers based on your input,” said Mr. Rex.
After hearing ideas about retail, offices, and other commercial uses, Michael Ristuccia stressed that the school is in a residential neighborhood. He said any commercial use would be wrong.
“This is a neighborhood,” he said the playground should stay a park and the public works department would continue to mow the grass.
Mr. Ristuccia is chair of the BPW.
He said he did not believe that the building needed to be used as a school to preserve the town’s history. He said retaining the building and its characteristics is what would be important.
“We should be keeping that building,” said Mr. Brady, who lives across the street from it. “The wrong developer will destroy that neighborhood.”
Many people said they were against public housing at the site.
Carolyn Tyler said she would like to see education again in the building.
“It’s very crucial to the integrity of the town,” said Ms. Tyler. “We should nurture our history.”
She said residents needed to put their heads together to come up with a viable use, or “who knows what will happen? If we lose control….it could be public housing.”
The next step is for K&C to create a preliminary report. The next meeting date has not been set.
Residents are encouraged to email Planning and Economic Development Director Bill Roth at email@example.com with ideas for the building.•••
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