Brookline voters to consider taking over school building
BROOKLINE -- A little more than a month ago, the Selectboard appointed a committee to collect information about the Brookline Baptist Church and the building in which the town's elementary school children were once educated. On Town Meeting day, voters are going to hear that information and then be asked whether the town should take ownership of both buildings.
In 2009, Brookline and Newfane merged their elementary schools and in 2010 the building was closed up. But about a year later Sunny Lane Daycare and Preschool took over and has utilized the space ever since.
Alicia O'Donnell, the chairwoman of the Brookline School Board, said it became apparent that the town should take over the building when discussion began about creating a Regional Education District covering the towns of Brookline, Townshend, Jamaica, Newfane and Windham. Town residents might get to vote on whether to create a district in June, and if voters approve it, the Brookline school building would get turned over to the RED; the town would lose all claim to it, said O'Donnell.
"The School Board fully supports the town taking over the building," she said. "It's an asset that the town should keep."
Due to the success of the merger between Newfane and Brookline, it's highly unlikely the School Board would ever consider reusing it as an educational facility, said O'Donnell.
Currently, the School Board expends about $8,000 a year on facility costs, but makes back that amount, and then some, in the rent it charges to Sunny Lane.
"It could probably make more money for the town," said O'Donnell. "We were very gracious with the lease because we wanted to see it being used."
Tina Bills, the owner and director of Sunny Lane, said she has been following with interest the discussion about the school building. While she would prefer the building remain with the school district, she understands the vote in June -- if it even happens -- could alter the arrangement she currently has.
"We want to stay. We have a thriving business and a lot of families depend on us," she said. "We love it here. This building is designed for what we are doing."
Whether she would be interested in purchasing the building, Bills said "There's a lot of ‘ifs,' but if it's reasonable and we can do it, then, yes."
Sunny Lane is a publicly funded preschool, open five days a week, 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., year-round. Currently there are 62 children enrolled in Sunny Lane, which employs 10 people.
Tom Staats, chairman of the Brookline Selectboard, said it would behoove the town to take over ownership of the school building, but one question still needs to be answered. The original construction bond was paid in full, he said, but there was about $135,000 in educational grant money for renovations that the town might be required to pay back to the state.
"If the town takes it back and decides to sell it, we could be on the hook for the $135,000," he said. "There is some confusion about what the town might be liable for."
Staats said he hopes to have an answer to that question by Town Meeting, on March 4.
Doug Wellman, who headed the committee that collected the information on the school and church buildings, said if the town takes it over, it should continue its relationship with Sunny Lane.
"We'd be interested in continuing the current arrangement," he said.
Staats said he is ambivalent about ownership of the school.
"There are people in the town who have a deep affection for the school, but I wouldn't be heartbroken to sell it," he said.
While the building itself is probably worth $300,000, it's unclear how much it would actually fetch on the market.
"Even if the building was eventually sold, the town could keep the athletic fields," said Staats.
Staats admitted voters will have plenty of questions on Town Meeting day about taking over ownership of the both buildings, but one thing is certain, he said.
"If the voters don't want the buildings, both will go on the market," he said.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
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