Friday April 26, 2013

WILMINGTON -- The Wilmington Selectboard this week signed off on the application for a grant for a feasibility study to see if the Twin Valley High School could be turned into a community center when students vacate the building.

It's part of a process that actually began last summer when the board voted unanimously to support a resolution to apply for a grant to fund the study.

"It's taking a little longer than expected," said Twin Valley Building Committee Chairman Phil Taylor. "Basically what this does is it deals with the issue of what we do with this vacated building once we consolidate fully in 2014. The idea was to use this opportunity to kind of foster development in the downtown area and increase local community members' access to social services and community services."

Taylor is also the Wilmington School Board Chairman and a Twin Valley School Board member. The Twin Valley School Board will be the governing board next year when the complete consolidation occurs.

Last week, the town of Wilmington sent in a similar application for a Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery grant that would fund a feasibility study to see if and where a co-relocation of the Police and Fire Department would make sense.

"Phil Taylor started this way before we started ours," said Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy. "He's been very busy with construction and when they lost their grant writer, it fell on his shoulders.


Advertisement

"

The construction is at the Deerfield Valley Elementary School, where Whitingham students will be attending next school year, along with the Wilmington students who already go there. It will be renamed Twin Valley Elementary School.

The Twin Valley High School in Wilmington will no longer be used as a school. Its students will go to the Twin Valley Middle School, which will be renamed Twin Valley Middle and High School.

On April 24, the Wilmington Selectboard signed off on the application for a grant that would service the Wilmington School District by conducting a feasibility study to see if the Twin Valley High School could be turned into a community center when students vacate the building.

"The idea was to see if we could use this facility as a multi-purpose sort of effort," said Taylor. "The first thing was to find a way to basically locate community center activities, which initially started in 2006 and that initiative failed because they couldn't acquire or get permitting where they were planning to turn into a community center."

The feasibility study is going to see if that need still exists and if the current Twin Valley High School could be used.

One interested tenant for a portion of that space is the Southern Vermont Medical Center, which operates the Deerfield Valley Medical Center at the intersection of Route 9 and 100 in Wilmington.

"The idea would be that this would possibly allow them to expand into health services and wellness services," said Taylor.

The current building that the Deerfield Valley Medical Center is located in is too small for that type of expansion. The feasibility study also would show the medical center an approximate price for leasing property in the proposed facility.

There were other ideas brought up for uses of the facility.

"There's an economic development piece in there, too," said Taylor of the application. "Essentially, we have two classifications of space with that building. The more modern part of that building could offer more high quality rental space for a professional building or health services or something of that sort. In the older space, it's limited in what we can do to that building without incurring really high construction costs. The idea is to use that area of the building as low cost spaces."

He said those spaces could be used for anything from artist space to light industrial space.

"The premise with all of this is that we're looking for this center to be self-funding. So there's a limit to how much money we want to put into the construction based on getting an understanding of what revenue we could produce from this building," said Taylor.

As of now, other tenants have shown interest.

"The idea now is to really identify those who would be interested and build a model that reflects market needs," Taylor said. "A big idea here is to be able to offer affordable space."

He told the Reformer that some parts of the building can be used as multi-purpose space. An example was that several state organizations that would like to have a presence in the Deerfield Valley, but don't have the funding, could have a space in the building for one or two days a week.

"Basically, we'd have shared areas," said Taylor. "To make their services accessible the folks in the valley."

The proposed facility would go along with the Wilmington Town Plan. Restaurants and retail spaces would not be available in the proposed building. Taylor said there is already vacant building spaces on Main Street for that type of development.

The proposed facility would promote growth in the community and increase downtown density.

"We don't want to get into a place where we have to sprawl and take away from the big open places that attract people here," he said.

Currently, the property is owned by the Wilmington School District.

"Ultimately, we've been told by legal counsel that we have to divest our property," said Taylor. "We can't really own property that generates profits as a school district."

Before the property could be transformed into a community center, there would have to be a vote from residents.

"We are thinking that it would have some form of municipal oversight and ownership," said Taylor. "The key is to show the town it can be financially self-sustaining."

The gym and fields on the property are going to continue to be accessible to the town. The field is still going to be used for Farmers' Day Markets and the gym will be used for voting and Town Meeting Day.

Taylor said he'll likely be finished next week with the application.

The feasibility study will include business plans, potential tenants, potential revenue, as well as general concept and costs from an architect.

"We're really hoping this works out," he added.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.