On Oct. 15, I made another public comment presentation to the Granby BOS to re-address the ongoing concern for the status of the closed Kearns Elementary School. The critical points are below.
• No further actions have been initiated by the Board of Selectmen since the Town of Granby Kearns School Study Committee submitted an initial overview of the facilities status in January 2017, an interim report in February 2017 and a final report May 11, 2017. This report is available at the link: granby-ct.gov/sites/granbyct/files/uploads/finalreportcomplete.pdf
• The committee was charged with recommending “the highest and best use of the [Kearns] facility.” The committee agreed that it was important that its recommendation reflect the opinions of residents and be fiscally viable.
• The result included options for redevelopment, sale as is, or retention for town/community use.
• The committee stated that, “if the board chooses the redevelopment option, we believe that a realistic, aggressive, and adequately funded marketing strategy is crucial for the success of the redevelopment approach. We also suggest that the board pursue such a strategy without further delay…”
• Its conclusion was that regardless of the option that was selected, time was of the essence, as delay would result in additional expense to the town. Committee members were available to discuss their finding with the board at its request.
• Additionally, in my PowerPoint presentation, reference was made to the current online status of Connecticut’s mill rates. Not only are Granby’s higher than other towns in the vicinity (Farmington, Suffield, Simsbury and E. Granby) but are 2.27 points above the next highest. It isn’t going to take much to be at 40 in the near term if action isn’t taken to generate major capital revenue.
• Note on the Connecticut mill rates: the only (out of 169) towns higher than Granby are New London, Norwich, New Haven, Stratford, Middletown, Hartford, Bridgeport, Naugatuck, Middletown + Fire. This further reasserts our rather vulnerable mill rate position.
Eighteen months have passed since the study committee submitted its report to the BOS. No action has been taken with the exception of entertaining a Kearns School Community Steering Committee’s recent solicitation for a 10-year lease of the property from the town for $1/year, attainment of maintenance costs, upgrades and establishment of a facility that would provide a diverse spectrum of community services and recreational/educational options to residents of Granby and surrounding towns. Readers may refer to the Steering Committee’s Facebook page, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the co-lead of the project Elliot Altomare at 908-528-7915.
• As happened with the former Evonsion farm on East Street, there is an unsolicited proposal on the table. The Kearns School Community Steering Committee stated that its objective is to have a $2.7 million funding objective/ commitment to establish the contract with the town within six months or less. If Granby does not aggressively pursue a marketing strategy to sell the property or take the next steps with the steering committee, ongoing maintenance costs, further physical deterioration and property value decline will result and we will be looking at this two years down the road. The 2019-20 budget planning is just around the corner; Connecticut is in economic emergency mode. Unless we have strong, fiscally astute state and town leadership with an eye to maximizing our revenue, Kearns School and such property assets as Granby has will become unjustifiable liabilities.
• An update or review of the current appraised value should be done. A broadly-targeted RFP should be established and perhaps an offering to the various real estate companies in town to seek potential buyers would be warranted.
• Kearns School, as a non-profit facility, would generate no property tax revenue to the town.
• Susan Patricelli Regan and her husband, William Regan met with the Kearns School Community Steering Committee co-leaders Elliot Altomare and Gennie Busse on Oct. 16 at their request. They were aware that Regan had proposed a somewhat similar community center recommendation to the BOS a number of months ago and they were anxious to seek some direction because the Regans have been aggressively seeking the best marketing strategy for many months. They also were cognizant of the fact that the Regans’ concern was for a prime outcome for the town as concerned taxpayers. The meeting was very productive and there is a proposal in consideration by the steering committee to make a more lucrative offer to the town that may expedite next steps or at minimum open discussion on a value-added negotiation to meet the respective parties’ objectives. Time is of the essence because the building is deteriorating, the maintenance costs continue, and we are facing budget challenges internally and externally not seen in decades. The BOS must act now. Remember the old axiom “Lead, follow or make way.”
Susan Patricelli Regan is the host of CT Valley Views (ctvalleyviews.com), president of Foxfield F.A.R.M. Foundation (foxfieldcoverymission.org), founder of the Sylvia Davis Fine Arts Scholarship (sylviadavisart.com) and former VP Marketing and Community Trade Relations for DIAGEO N.A.