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Select Board Narrowly Approves 3-Year Plan For Prescott

by Connie Sartini, 

 

   The Select Board narrowly approved a three-year business plan submitted by the Friends of Prescott, which lease the town-owned Prescott School. The lease agreement with the Friends required them to provide a three-year business plan to demonstrate that they would be self-sustaining in operating the Prescott School at no cost to the town.  

   On a 3 to 2 vote, Select Board members Chairman Barry Pease, Josh Degen and Becky Pine were in favor of approving the Business Plan while members Alison Manugian and John Giger were opposed.

   In presenting their plan, The Friends told the Select Board that their business plan calls for a payment to the town of $20,000 for maintenance in year three of the lease and in the future contribute $15,000 to a Rental Revolving Fund.

   The mission of the Friends is to keep the Prescott School building as a town asset, using it as a Community Center to provide space for non-profit and for-profit organizations and to create educational programs for all ages.

   They offer low cost rental space for commercial and non-profit organizations and to date there are three sub-lease tenants on the first floor of the building. There is also programming for preschoolers through seniors, covering the arts, crafts, athletics, hobbies, life-long learning and just plain fun. The Friends have been averaging 150 to 250 registrations and about 35 or more offerings per session.

   Friends President Mary Athey Jennings said that the group based the lease on direct public support and gifts in kind. Through their direct public support, the Friends have raised $41,000 from founding members as well as funds from businesses. They have plans for a “Welcome Center” where people can visit and get a map of the town center and the local businesses.

   There are short-term rentals of the gymnasium and meeting rooms and leases with an average rental rate of $15.60 per square foot.

   Jennings said that in year three of the lease, the Friends would like to make the third floor, formerly occupied by the school department, into rentable space.

   Town Manager Mark Haddad, 

Finance Committee member Bud Robertson and Select Board member Alison Manugian have been working with the Friends on their plan. Manugian said she felt that the plan was optimistic, particularly with a projected 30 to 35 percent growth for the first year. Today the top floor is not useable, and they are waiting for the results of the bids for sprinklers and fire alarm systems. She pointed out that there is no handicap access for the top floor, and noted that the school was not viable as a Senior Center because of access issues. 

   Robertson said that the lease was signed by the Board with the only stipulation that the Friends be able to pay the $20,000 in year three of the lease. He stressed that it will be in the third year that the town will need to look at the progress. “You can’t make a decision after only six months. You cannot draw any conclusions yet…They just got started.”

   Haddad advised that the bids for the sprinkler system would be opened on April 18, stressing that he did not think the town had enough money and that may delay the third-floor sprinkler.  

   Member John Giger said he had a list of concerns citing the recent development regarding a letter from the Building Inspector that advised the Friends that the code does not allow for children under age 18 to be in in the building without a parent. He added that planning to open the third floor to a Waldorf School carries a lot of risk and it will have to be 100 percent ADA compliant, and could cost up to $1M to put in an elevator.

   Jennings replied that accommodation for handicapped students could be made by locating a classroom on a lower floor of the building.

   DPW Director Tom Delaney said that this restriction on children under age 18 was due to the lack of fire alarms in the building. 

   Selectman Josh Degen commented that he did agree with the Friends that the building code was an ever-changing target when trying to use the upper floor by adding sprinklers and fire alarms. He added that there were great offerings to date and suggested that the Friends share a quarterly report with the Select Board and not an annual one. He asked, “What happens to your forecast if you can’t use the third floor?” 

   Degen said he supported the lease moving forward but expressed concern with a request for $86,000 for additional maintenance work at the school. “I am very concerned how we continue forward to support Prescott School,” adding, “We still have the Country Club not paying for itself.”

   Friends of Prescott Treasurer Bruce Easom told the Board that the Friends of Prescott would likely make the $20,000 payment in year three of the lease, adding that there is an opportunity next year to talk about the third floor. He stressed that a large portion of their revenue comes from donations and this can close the gap. He said he felt that the request for the $86,000 could be reduced.

   Easom told the Board, “I understand that you are cautious and you should be. This is a high-risk venture. These are volunteers that are trying to make the town better. They are talented, dedicated volunteers and volunteers can make a lot of difference.”

   The full text of the Friends’ Business Plan is available on their website: Prescottscc.org.

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