When asked by Selectman Dennis Tracey for an update on the North House situation at last week’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said the subject always seems to make her sigh — mainly because the situation keeps changing.
But she did offer an overview of where the town and the schools stand on a proposal to move some town offices into space that might not be needed in the North House section of Hurlbutt Elementary School.
Ms Weinstein explained that at a “tri-board” meeting with the boards of selectmen, finance, and education held Oct. 10, Superintendent Colleen Palmer said due to declining enrollment, the schools could allocate the first floor of North House to the town. In return, the school would likely need the part of South House currently occupied by the Senior Center because it could most easily be retrofitted to serve the kindergartners through second graders who attend Hurlbutt.
After that October meeting, though, Ms. Weinstein explained, parents expressed concern about what would happen if the space was needed again by the schools. And so, the school board held off for a month on voting on the plan.
The school board is expected to vote on the North House shift at its meeting this Monday, Dec. 17.
Ms. Weinstein said it’s her understanding the school district will likely give the town the first floor of North House initially, and then, in “maybe three years,” it may also give up the second floor for municipal use.
But, she added, “There may be some discretion on their part about who can go in there.” There has been some concern expressed, for example, about land use offices being in a school, since contractors and other members of the public visit those offices fairly regularly, she said.
The problem with not knowing what restrictions to use of the building might be imposed, Ms. Weinstein continued, is it has forced the town to put a parking survey for North House on hold.
“We can’t determine the parking needs until we know who is going to occupy that space,” she said.
That holds true for any kind of planning for the move. “We can’t start the process on our side … until the Board of Education makes their decision,” the first selectman said.
The good news, Ms. Weinstein said, is “the schools have made it clear the seniors can stay where they are” until who is allowed to go there gets sorted out.
Selectman Dave Muller asked whose call it is as far as who is allowed to go there, since it is a school, but it is also technically a town-owned building. It’s important to figure out whose building it is and therefore who gets to determine the use of it, Mr. Muller said.
“That’s a very good question,” Ms. Weinstein said. The town will likely work with the town attorney to figure that out, but, she said she wants to hear the school board’s discussion first before approaching counsel.
“I want us to work together … I’m trying not to turn this into any kind of aggressive situation with the BOE right now. I’m trying to let them go through their process. Then, when their process happens and they deem what the appropriate action is to take regarding the space, we can discuss whatever path we feel is appropriate,” Ms. Weinstein said.
She reminded the selectmen that any changes at Hurlbutt would also need 8-24 approval fro the Planning and Zoning Commission, since it would a change in use of town property.
“We still have a lot of moving parts here,” Ms. Weinstein said.