BRATTLEBORO >> The Brattleboro Select Board will vote tonight on whether it should buy the Reformer building and start the process of moving the Brattleboro Police Department to Black Mountain Road.
In a revised agenda released late on Monday, during the board's re-organizational meeting, the board members will decide whether to authorize Town Manager Peter Elwell to purchase the land and the building. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with re-organization.
"One of the items on the agenda for the Brattleboro Select Board's March 30, 2016, meeting is whether to exercise right away the Town's option to purchase the property on Black Mountain Road where the police station would be moving," stated Brattleboro Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein. "The Select Board has previously considered that option agreement, and approved it after concluding that it protects the Town's interests. Town Meeting has approved the bonding authority and funding for FY'17 needed to move the police station to Black Mountain Road, and no valid petitions have been filed seeking a referendum on these Town Meeting decisions. I therefore look forward to hearing any public comment that may be offered at our March 30 meeting, and then to the Board's consideration whether to exercise the option right away.
If the town doesn't exercise the option to purchase the property by March 31, it will have to make an additional payment of $10,000 on top of the already disbursed $20,000, which the board authorized last November, to prevent the property's owners from marketing the building. If the board does authorize Elwell to go ahead, he will hand over a $35,000 down payment to the property owners, Alden Global Capital, which owns Digital First Media, the Reformer and a number of other newspapers around the country.
A petition to send the matter to town voters failed to get the required number of signatures and a rumored petition to put the budget to a town-wide vote has failed to materialize.
The agreed on purchase price for the building and land is $720,000. The town and the property owner have until August 10 to close on the deal. "Closing may occur earlier by mutual consent of the parties," states the agreement. As part of the deal, the town has agreed to wall off a portion of the building for the Reformer's news and sales staff, and install a separate entrance.
Dick DeGray, who was voted to a one-year seat on the board, said he won't be at the meeting due to a prior commitment, but if he was able to attend, he would be voting in favor of the purchase.
"I am happy that the project is going forward. It's been long overdue."
However, DeGray said, the board will now have to decide what to do with the portion of the Municipal Building that the police department will be vacating.
"I am looking forward to being part of the decision."
If Select Board member John Allen has his way, the answer is simple.
"We can't afford the Municipal Building anymore. Let's sell it."
As far as buying the building on Black Mountain Road, Allen can't wait to vote yes.
"Oh, my God, yes. We need to get this done. We have been going through this for too many years. If we continue on, someone is going to get hurt or come down with cancer and file a lawsuit. What's cheaper? That or buying the building?"
"I think the advantages of having a building that supports communication and efficiency rather than making it harder solves many more problems than it will create," said board member David Schoales. "I would like government and/or community organizations to share the space in the Muni Center."
At a special Representative Town Meeting on March 12, Town Meeting members supported the move in a 111-27 vote. The town budget was then approved by Town Meeting Representatives on March 19, which included first-year debt service for moving the police to the Reformer building at $176,906. In addition to approving the move, Town Meeting Representatives approved the renovation of the Brattleboro Fire Department's Central Station on Elliot Street. The total cost for the move and the renovations is $12.8 million.
"The Town's plans for renovations to Brattleboro's aging police and fire emergency response facilities have been extensively reviewed and considered," stated Gartenstein in his email to the Reformer. "The work needs to be done, and although the project will impose a financial burden on the Town, I think that moving forward with this work is the right thing for the Town, and will substantially serve the public good. In addition, we are looking at exciting possibilities for reuse and revitalization of the Municipal Center. The Town has already had preliminary discussions with the State of Vermont and Brattleboro Housing Authority about the possibility of their renting space at the Municipal Center, which would help generate revenue for the Town."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.