Wilmington high school building up for more debate


WILMINGTON >> The town has received a petition calling for the Select Board to "work with the Wilmington School Board" to explore options for turning the former Twin Valley High School building into a community center.

"Mixed opinions exist regarding what our next step should be moving forward with developing the old high school building," resident Karen Molina told the Select Board on Wednesday. "The petition that we are presenting tonight represents what we feel is an important point of view shared by many in our community."

"New energy emerged" for creating a community center after a meeting on July 7, Molina said, referring to the informational session before residents voted to authorize the Wilmington School District to sell the building.

Although there is no buyer, both Wilmington and Whitingham taxpayers are responsible for maintenance costs since the two school districts consolidated their schools. High school students from the towns go to a facility in Whitingham. Elementary school students attend classes in Wilmington. Each town has a board and there's a joint Twin Valley board.

On Thursday, Town Manager Scott Murphy said the petition's 207 signatures had not been authorized yet. Two or three were not registered voters of Wilmington, according to Molina.

An October meeting is expected to see groups on both sides of the issue meet with the Select Board. The board previously received a petition saying the building should be sold. That did not trigger the 93-58 vote to sell the building on July 14.

The newest petition calls for upgrades but not "a couple gut renovation" of the building. Whether the town should cover operational and capital improvement costs, the petition said, should be decided in a town-wide vote.

"That's the big question," Murphy said in an interview on Thursday. "And I wouldn't make a guess on how that's going to turn out."

He said there's a large portion of people who want a community center and a large portion of people who don't want one because it will be "a huge cash drain" on the town.

A request for proposal process was deemed unsuccessful by the Wilmington School Board when only one bidder came forward. And it was not a developer whose ideas for the building might have kept room for a community center.

A second RFP is anticipated to be issued. The School Board is meeting on Monday.

"They had an offer. Like any normal offer, you go back with a counter offer," Murphy said. "Maybe they'll be more willing to take offers on the other one."

Between 10 to 12 residents who came to Wednesday's meeting in support of the petition left before the Select Board questioned Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation on the old school building not being a bigger priority in a regional plan for economic development. The group was giving the board an update on different initiatives.

BDCC Executive Director and Wilmington School Board Chairman Adam Grinold spoke of a committee that ranks projects on a range of different things.

"So it's not done in-house," he said. "Our team's revamping the whole process to make it more user-friendly to get more of the projects in."

Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon asked for help in getting a higher score for the project, saying it seemed like the building was being "overlooked."

"What John's (Gannon) saying is we're feeling ignored," added Select Board Chairman Tom Fitzgerald,

Being able to demonstrate an update in terms of invested resources would make for a stronger application, according to BDCC Workforce and Education Specialist Alex Beck.

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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