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After Acrimonious Debate, Select Board Approves 3-Year Extension of Prescott Lease

by Connie Sartini
Following lengthy and sometimes acrimonious discussion, the Select Board ultimately voted 3 (Degen, Pine, Reilly) to 2 (Manugian, Giger) to extend the lease to the Friends of Prescott for the Prescott School building for an additional three years, from September 2021 to August 2024.
     The Board was in unanimous agreement to amend the existing lease, which expires in August 2021 to allow the Friends to occupy the second floor of the Prescott School building once the sprinkler system is installed and approved and the Fire Chief and Building Commissioner signs off on its use.
     Town Manager Mark Haddad said he worked closely with Selectman Josh Degen and Finance Committee Chairman Bud Robertson, on the lease negotiations and said that the Friends of Prescott were the only respondent to the RFP (Request For Proposal). He added that the Friends met all the requirements of the RFP adding, “I would call it an advantageous proposal that can be accepted by the Select Board.”
     Select Board Member John Giger said that while he agreed that amending the existing rental agreement with the Friends to allow for the use of the second floor, he objected to the two changes to the lease be put together into one vote. “We need to know how we are going to do this for four or five years.” He added that he was confused by the use of the term gross revenue versus gross profits. I’m not sure what this means.” Haddad said that it was an error and that the correct wording was “gross revenue.”
     Giger said that he felt the proposed lease “needs a lot of attention. We don’t have to ram this through,” and Chairman Alison Manugian agreed. Giger said he wanted a “clean copy” of the lease, not one with redlined changes.
     Finance Committee member Art Prest advised that “no one talked to the Finance Committee. I would like to see the details. I am concerned that we have a ‘community center’ that also has businesses.” He added that he didn’t want the town to end up subsidizing this. Robertson responded, “There is no operating subsidy for the Friends of Prescott. We pay for the insurance on the building and the Friends pay us $20,000. There is no operating subsidy.” Chairman Manugian said that this has been brought to the Select Board, but “we can ask the FinCom for more review.”
     Giger commented, “I don’t remember voting for Bud, Josh and Mark to make all the primary decisions. I thought they were here to monitor the contract.”
     Manugian added that the project is two-fold, “There is the year-to-year function and then the renovation costs. It is ridiculous to just talk about a three-year lease. We need to talk about renovation costs. I don’t support a three-year lease. The re-striping of the parking lot is a surprise. I have a lot of concerns about signing now. I want to take more time to review this.”
     Select Board member John Reilly stated that his concerns were “the long-term viability of the building and taxpayers having to put money into the building. The new lease is not appealing to the taxpayer...We have to consider what we as a board will accept. It is a phenomenal deal to be in that building for that kind of money - $15,000. I agree with John Giger on the timing...I think we need a little more time.”
     Selectman Degen pointed out, “The option to sell the building failed by two votes. With the recent RFP, the Friends came forward and want to extend the lease to include use of the second floor. Let’s move forward. No one else responded to the RFP. This is a long-term commitment by the town and there may be a CPC (Community Preservation Committee) proposal to renovate the building.” Degen then said, “If you want to re-negotiate the lease, I’ll step back and let you take it over.”
     Manugian noted that it was a “conflicting goal to rent ad nauseum until we renovate it.”
     Roberson stressed, “Friends of Prescott can’t hit their numbers for one year if no one can rent space for only one, two or three months. When the lease expires in three years, do we want to continue to rent it? Let the town decide if they want to get rid of it. In three years what do we want to do with the building? This is the call we have to make.”
     Manugian responded that she “thought we would have done this in the last three years. Now it is a longer time. We will have three years to act on it.”
     Member Giger said he took exception to Degen’s comment about how the town voted on the potential sale of the school building. “We didn’t vote that we did not want to sell the building. We didn’t vote to turn the building into a community center,” adding that the Friends should create a trust fund to cover operating expenses. He cautioned, “This will fall back on the taxpayers.”
     Colleague Becky Pine said she “agreed with John that we did not vote for a community center.” She pointed out that if the town did not renew the lease, there would be a cost to insure an empty building and that doesn’t serve the taxpayer. She added, “I see no reason to question this. We don’t get involved in the Publik House, the Country Club or Hazel Grove Park.”
     Manugian reminded the Board that “at this point we have a multimillion dollar expenditure ahead of us. We have other projects ahead of us,” like the upcoming new elementary school. “We need a plan to move forward.”
     Pine stressed, “The Friends are doing us a favor. We don’t need any renovations at this point.”
     Haddad reminded the Board that they have 30 days to issue a response to an RFP. “We received the response on Sept. 30 so we need a decision by October 30.” He added that the Board could award the RFP for one year or three years, “but you have to do something by October 30.”
     Degen pointed that “no one will lease space for one year. Bricks and mortar buildings with rental space is going to change. Give them a chance to survive. Give them a three-year lease. If you don’t want to approve this, it is disingenuous.” He then moved to accept the three years.
     Pine added that the town should not “issue an RPF and then not follow through. There is a lot of expertise focused on this building. Long term, it could be a revenue generator for the town. It won’t happen if there are road blocks.”
     Degen then withdrew his motion, noting that the Board has one month to resolve it.
     “Also, I tender my resignation from the Prescott Oversight Committee and ask John Reilly to take over.”
     Giger said he believes that the lease agreement “needs to have some work done on it. We need to agree on how we determine profit. We need to look at this.” He asked about a liability insurance policy for the school and Degen said that the Friends have one.
     Giger responded, “How would I know about that. We didn’t vote for a party of three to do this. What you have is oversight and you need to bring it back to the Board.”
     Haddad said that the current lease was negotiated with Town Counsel. He said that the Friends would pay $33K to $38K for the plowing and landscaping over the next three years beginning on September 1, 2021. That amount is currently paid by the taxpayer.
     Manugian commented, “The missing piece is: does the town support renovations ad nauseum?” Pine responded, “This is not the case in the current situation, but maybe in the future. (This is) not the right time to renovate. We can use Prescott as it is.”
     Robertson suggested that John Giger work with him and Mark to highlight his concerns on the lease, and then go over the report with the Select Board. He asked Giger to identify what he feels is missing.
     Giger responded, “I want a clean copy of the lease document. I want the Board to have input. This is not a John Giger thing. I am not going to be bullied into a corner. I want the rest of the Board to have time to read and review this.”
     Manugian closed, “My hope tonight was that we would have a discussion for one, two or three years. My quandary is to approve a three-year lease on top of the one-year amended lease. I am not comfortable with this.”
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