Majority Likes Yanchencko Plan for Prescott School, But Falls Short of Required 2/3 Following Failure To Reach Unified Vision [with video]
A majority of voters approved giving Selectmen the authority to sell or lease the historic Prescott School, but the action fell short of the required 2/3 majority to move forward on a proposal by local resident and businessman Gregory Yanchenko to invest in the building, turning the former classrooms into space for two and possibly three businesses. The vote tally was 84 in favor with 53 no votes.
Yanchenko presented his proposal for the building, planning to relocate two of his businesses there and expecting that a third business would come in later. The number of employees would start at around 20 and could grow up to 50.
He agreed to lease land in the rear of the school for a dollar a year for the use as a 60-car municipal parking lot.
He also agreed to lease the gym back to the town for a dollar per year, but with the stipulation that the town pay for any required renovations to the gym and install a bathroom. The area in front of the building could still be used for community events, tree sales, plant sale and car washes.
Yanchenko told voters that he was open to lease the building from the town for a dollar per year for a 25-year period, and would pay for the estimated $1.7M in renovations.
The article generated a lengthy discussion, with split support from the Prescott School Re-Use Committee, and Selectmen. One main objection to the sale is the school's location in the heart of the center, and the caution that once it is gone, it is gone forever. Re-Use Committee Russ Burke urged voters to postpone action on the article indefinitely. "This property is not ready for prime time." He noted that there were still zoning changes required for the property, adding, "Short term expediency could result in long term regret."
Re-Use Committee colleague Berta Erickson pointed out that Prescott is the largest building on the largest tract of land in the center. She offered other options for its use, stressing that the "building has always been used for people," and suggested that there was interest for use by Groton Historical Society, Senior Center, and added that the structure could also be used as a town hall annex. "The vision is for people; if we sell it, it is gone forever."
Resident Becky Pine said she felt that there was a "lot still not clear to the audience," such as the use of the school's gym. She pointed out the "current situation with Tarbell School" questioning, "What if this proposal doesn't happen?"
Selectman Josh Degen advised that the Purchase and Sale Agreement would always give the town the Right of First Refusal to take back the property. The town, however, would have to pay the cost plus the investment.
Two local realtors commented. Resident John Amaral of Omni Properties told voters that the appraised value conducted by a certified appraiser on the building for $35,000 was indeed valid based on the financials and return on investments. In his analysis, he felt that based on the appraisers report, "There is not a large discrepancy on what he is offering now." He pointed out that there are "risks associated with waiting. Labor and material costs go up," he said, adding that any increase in interest rates could change the economics of the deal.
Realtor John Carver, however, maintained that the focus of advertising was too narrow and that a realtor should have been used to ensure that the property was broadly marketed and on multiple real estate websites. He stated that the sale meant "$9.21 per household from this sale."
Selectman Anna Eliot pointed out the value to the town for a municipal parking lot, adding that properties at the Four Corners were marketed by realtors and are still vacant.
Selectman Jack Petropoulos told the audience that he voted against supporting the sale because he had issues with the process. He said he had been under the impression that the town couldn't market the old school building in the traditional manner through a realtor, which would allow the seller to reject offers. Town Manager Mark Haddad stressed that the town can only accept sealed bids and that they must advertise in the Central Register.
Resident Edie Tompkins told voters that the school was an opportune central location as a place for the arts to flourish, noting that there are many artists and groups looking for space. She pointed out that the Arts Nashoba for children's theater had to pay $2500 for a week to use the Groton-Dunstable School District's Performing Arts Center. "There are a number of old buildings in adjacent towns that have provided space such as the Roudenbush Center in Westford and the Emerson Umbrella in Concord," she said.
Following many more comments from residents in support and in opposition to the proposed lease or sale of Prescott School, the vote narrowly missed the required the 2/3 majority, and thus the article was defeated.