Following a spirited discussion, the selectmen voted 3-2 last night not to exercise the town & #039;s option to purchase the Frank R. Adams School.
In October the school district received a bid of $127,650 for the Adams School from St. John the Evangelist Church. Owing to a previous understanding that the town would have the first option on the building, the school board chose to hold off on the bid until town meeting.
The current arrangement cramming police, fire and municipal services into one building is considered inadequate by many, and the town had been eying the Adams School as a possible solution.
Debate last night was prompted by completion of an engineering study by Black River Design that evaluated the basic system conditions of the school and estimated the costs and time frame for needed renovations.
Black River estimated that roughly $500,000 would have to be spent over the next five to 10 years to provide for a
dequate roofing, heating, electrical, plumbing, windows and other basic facility needs.
The question before the board was whether to authorize additional money for a detailed study to evaluate the school & #039;s suitability for specific combinations of town services or relinquish their option on the building so the school district could accept St. John & #039;s bid.
Selectmen quickly divided into two schools of thought. Bill Thurston and Reg Wakeham both felt there were too many known and unknown costs to hold onto the building on the speculation that it might someday accommodate one or more town services.
Bryon Quatrini and Gabriel "Gib" Handy felt that some rearrangement of services was inevitable and that the Adams School might prove to be a cost-effective option.
"It just doesn & #039;t sound like a good investment for us now," said Wakeham.
Thurston agreed. "The district has got a valid offer on the school," he noted. "For us to be dragging our feet ... in all honesty I & #039;m not in favor."
Quatrini said the Adams School had actually been well-maintained, and that the only repairs that required immediate attention were the windows.
"I think we really need to understand what we & #039;re talking about before we cast off any options," said Quatrini.
"Looking ahead," added Handy, "five or seven years down the road we & #039;re not going to get off any cheaper."
The public weighed in as well. St. Johnsbury resident Marlene Rock said she agreed with Wakeham that the costs to take over the building were too high, adding that she would prefer to see the police barracks stay downtown anyway.
Michael Tierney, a government teacher at the St. Johnsbury Academy, said it seemed like a waste of money to assume control of the building with no firm plan when the school district already had a buyer.
Fire Chief Troy Ruggles and Police Chief Paul Devenger, who were on hand to discuss preliminary budget numbers, b
oth said they could be happy either with a renovation of the existing municipal offices or at the Adams School site.
Devenger was in favor of keeping fire and police together wherever they were located. Ruggles felt all the options, including using Adams School, deserved further study before limiting the choices.
In the end, board Chairman Elwin Cross was the swing vote. He was skeptical of the costs associated with the school, and not convinced that the current situation in the municipal building is inadequate.
Noting the lack of growth in the community and the hard economic times, Cross said, "The people right now are paying all the taxes they can pay."
Thurston & #039;s motion to not authorize additional study, thus freeing the school district to sell the building, passed 3-2, with Thurston, Cross and Wakeham in favor, and Quatrini and Handy opposed.