By Beth David, Editor
The consultants working with the town to figure out what to do with the Rogers School building presented a preliminary report to about 100 people in the auditorium of the town hall on January 5.
Brett Pelletier from Kirk & Company, and Albert Rex of MacRostie Historical Advisors presented their report after meeting with town residents in November and gathering information about the area and the town, including demographic information, economic outlook information, written comments from residents and a variety of other information.
Although pressed by residents to come up with some hard numbers, the two consultants said they were not at that stage yet. They would not estimate how much money would be required to rehabilitate the building for various uses.
The pair reiterated that the building is sound, but has some “water penetration.”
“But nothing major,” said Mr. Pelletier.
“It’s structurally sound, but it certainly isn’t move-in ready,” he said.
The pair said that their research included median age in the area (Fairhaven is slightly older at 47 vs. 40 in the region vs. 36 in the state), growth rate, school enrollment projections and stability of the housing market.
The point, they said, was to try and figure out what kind of facility would be useful in the building, such as housing, or commercial, educational, or medical offices; all of which was mentioned by the public, either pro or con.
The consultants were careful not to make any conclusions at the meeting, but simply reported their findings.
They also explained the various funding sources that could be used to renovate the building and bring it up to code. Although there is some overlap, funding sources would be different for the town as for a private non-profit or a for-profit business.
From all of that information, they would try to come up with the best chance for funding the rehab of the building, said Mr. Rex.
“Is it the use the community wants to see? Not necessarily,” he said.
One thing was made clear to the consultants, though, said Mr. Rex, the public has shown a very strong preference for keeping the building owned by the town.
“We clearly understand that municipal use seems to be what most people want,” sad Mr. Rex.
He cautioned, though, against moving some town departments into it, such as Emergency Management, that uses a building on Sconticut Neck Road, and the School Department, which uses a building on Washington Street.
That is how the town got in the situation in the first place, he noted, by consolidating. He cautioned against working so hard to fill up one large building only to end up with two smaller vacant ones.
He reminded residents that most towns are trying to keep staffing levels low, not expand them. And Fairhaven simply does not need the extra space.
Both consultants showed the layout of the building and explained how costs to renovate affect the final bottom line. The large corridor, for example, is dead space, not efficient space, meaning it will not be rented out or used as a per-foot return on investment. An elevator, for example, will have to be installed no matter who uses it. That is true no matter how big the building. In a larger building, the cost of that elevator gets spread out a little more, because it costs the same for a big building or a small one.
The upshot is: The building needs to produce enough revenue on a monthly basis to pay the debt.
The consultants would not estimate the cost of demolishing the building, saying only that it would be “substantial,” and that the 1950s addition would be more expensive because of environmental hazards.
They cautioned, though, against the town jumping the gun to demolish the addition, because it does offer wheelchair access to the old building.
“The 1950s addition isn’t all bad,” said Mr. Pelletier. “There are positives. There are virtues to that building. It’s accessible, and allows access to the old building.”
Once the actual costs are figured out for the various uses, they will be able to give some concrete possibilities for the uses.
Mr. Rex said that the best thing might be for the town to partner with a developer and then offer a long term lease for a specific use.
He said that was probably the direction he would go in because the clear preference was for the town to keep ownership of the building.
The task would be to figure out funding sources for a project that includes keeping the town as owner.
As for actual costs, Mr. Rex said they would estimate the costs of the various uses based on standard criteria.
“We’re not [going to] get hyper specific,” said Mr. Rex.
Resident Al Benac got some applause when he said that the town should stop thinking about the costs of a wholesale rehab of the building.
He said it was not about to fall down and eventually the town would need more space.
“[The building] can be brought up slowly,” said Mr. Benac, and then offered to pay to fix the leak himself.
And then the crowd clapped.
The meeting is available on YouTube through a link on the town’s website, www.fairhaven-ma.us; public comments, the presentation and the preliminary report are also available on the town’s website. Click on “Documents and Contracts,” and then on “Rogers School Documents.”
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