We’ve seen only one proposal for using decommissioned Kearns School, an asset owned by the town. Maybe that is because the town has done a poor job of ascertaining Granby residents’ usage preferences. Maybe town officials haven’t discovered usage ideas because they have never issued a formal Request for Proposals.
I once asked the Town Manager whether he has ever specifically tasked his town officials, who run the existing town’s center services, either to offer use suggestions or to cost-out possible alternatives—all to be done using Kearns within the existing town framework. He indicated that has not occurred. Yet, such an internal appraisal seems highly needed given the findings of a 2016 survey.
This survey was an attempt to identify what the town should do. I fear the results of that survey have been forgotten. Let’s briefly review them.
Respondents to one degree or another agreed that Kearns should be retained as a facility for Educational Activities. According to the Kearns Study summary, the highest three cateories of agreement constituted 68 percent. (See the Kearns Study report at granby-ct.gov/sites/granbyct/files/uploads/kssc_survey_results_12-16-2016.pdf )
There was little appetite expressed in the 2016 survey to sell the property, but strong agreement about its retention as a town property.
The survey contains no information about an appetite to spend—there were no questions about money. However, today governmental representatives (both state and Granby), are looking to put Kearns to use again as what has been proposed as a community center.
That’s okay if you want to spend in excess of $2 million tax dollars to create a Kearns Community Center. In 2017, Kearns was appraised in good condition and valued at $2,510,500.
The center concept was addressed among survey preferred usages—Community Center was not among survey categories. The usage table ranks the surveyed preferences.
The Center will incur costs to both Connecticut State income taxpayers and Granby property taxpayers, just to open its doors: more than $2 million in new tax dollars and loss of potential property tax savings by the town’s financial giveaway of Kearns. It doesn’t end there. In addition to higher taxes (and philanthropic support), the center will charge to participate in the activities. I think the town is handling the disposition of this decommissioned school in a short-sighted and costly manner.
Conceptually, there is a lot to like about the proposed center. Yet, given the drain both to taxpayers and its users’ pocketbooks, I wonder if there isn’t a better, less expensive usage.
What does the Kearns Center proposal do?
• Get Connecticut income tax payers statewide to pay to refurbish a tired, unused school into a nicely appointed center that will be used by a comparatively small, regional population within the state.
• Get grants to cover a small part of reconstruction costs.
• Get additional grants to cover 15 percent of operating expenses.
• Charge regional center users fees to use it.
• Get Granby residents to bear the risk of default by leasing Kearns from the town during a ten-year rent-free lease. Default happens if the center’s revenues fall short of expenses.
• Probably get Granby to agree to a lease that really is a deferred town grant of the property at no cost at lease termination.
• Get Granby to give full control of Kearns to a 501c3 nonprofit to use without restrictions. (No town oversight or control during the lease period.)
Because the center is run by a nonprofit organization, it doesn’t pay property taxes to the town. Because revenues are drained in expenses, profit is not forthcoming—there are no state income taxes. There is no repayment by the center of the $2 million given as a construction grant-in-add under proposed State Assembly Bill No. 257—its bonding costs will be picked up by State income taxpayers.
What happens when a nonprofit center runs into financial woes because of inflated expenses or because demand slackens and there are insufficient pay-for-service revenues? Somebody comes to the rescue. That would be you and me either through higher user fees, taxes or donations.
The fully refurbished school and completed center, when available sometime in 2020, has nice accoutrements (most of which are not free) for anyone in the Granby region:
Kitchen with cooking lessons (charge)
Senior day care (charge)
Many public events using a single large room and including other private events (charge)
Hobby shops and crafts, such as woodworking, metal fabrication, printing (charge)
Outdoor-style sun room good for supplementing the sun one otherwise gets and uses for natural production of vitamin D (charge?)
Veteran’s activity area (charge?)
Meditation room (charge)
Entitlements to members through subscriptions. Some would be discounts on other fee-for-services (charge)
Walks around the grounds, most of which are currently inaccessible and may remain so (free)
Where is the demand? And at what price?
Without senior day care, the budget of the center falls apart. There also is high dependency on kitchen operations. Nobody knows the demand for center services at the prices expected to be charged. Nobody has adequately looked at using Kearns as an adjunct to the existing, publicly run and financed center. That would be Granby Town Services, its school system, and, its many other services now supporting Granby residents. The Library and Senior Center are just two of many examples of the existing town infrastructure constituting an existing community center. Should this existing center be enhanced by using Kearns to bolster those existing town services, all within the rubric of retention and repurposing this town asset? And, should that extension be done at a fraction of the proposed $2 million and at the loss of lease payments to the town? I believe education and recreational use of Kearns can be done more inexpensively within the existing town framework. Has this approach been adequately considered?
The disposition of Kearns is not a done deal. Neither is the Kearns Community Center. I started with the questions: “What do you want to do with Kearns?” and “What are you willing to pay?” It’s not too late to express your wishes. I encourage you to post on the Granby Living Facebook page (facebook.com/groups/GranbyLiving/) and write a note to John Ward, the Granby Town Manager (granby-ct.gov/webforms/contact-us) or the Kearns Community Center Advisory Committee (c/o Abby Kenyon, 15 North Granby Road, Granby, CT 06035). Do this before a decision is made. Tell them what you like and don’t forget to tell them what you are willing to spend to get it.