Editorial: New uses for municipal orphans

  • Pearl Rhodes Elementary School in Leyden STAFF PHOTO

Published: 1/2/2020 12:16:37 PM
Modified: 1/2/2020 12:16:16 PM

Kudos to the town of Leyden for signing a tenant for part of the former Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, which ceased operations at the end of the 2018 school year as part of a regional consolidation plan that sent Leyden youngsters to Bernardston Elementary School.

Along with the building’s re-use as town offices, the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School is set to rent approximately 800 square feet of space starting Jan. 1. School is expected to begin Jan. 6. The lease is for six months, with the possibility of up to three years.

As reported in this newspaper, Leyden will receive $617.60 per month plus an additional $325 per month for cleaning and snow removal. That’s a win-win for both town and tenant; the town earns rent money to offset its own operational costs, including heat, light and fire alarm security, and Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School gets attractive space tailor-made for education.

Elsewhere in the county, other empty town buildings beg reuse. Heath still has a closed school building on its hands since residents voted in March 2019 to reject a proposal to sell the former school to a company seeking to use it for cultivation and sales. South Deerfield still owns the South Deerfield Congregational Church building since accepting it as a gift following the church’s closure at the end of 2016. Plans to use it for a new Senior Center seem to have stalled. Warwick is concerned about the fate of its own elementary school building, should the Pioneer Valley Regional School District decide to close it.

Towns typically initiate community-wide brainstorming sessions when an empty building lands in their lap. In Heath, for example, a transition team led by Chairwoman Hilma Sumner listened to “everything from wild-and-crazy to more sensible (ideas).” The brainstormed ideas included a community center, an environmental center or agricultural program, a charter or special education school, assisted living senior housing, a business incubator, low-income housing, a conference center, library, theater/film and arts school. Other ideas were for a sculpture park, solar farm, and a campus extension for other school or colleges. Another idea was that it function as a town business hub with internet, a store and a cafe. Another thought was that the school could house Heath’s municipal town offices.

A local Realtor with experience in reusing municipal buildings can offer examples of successful reuses and help narrow down the wish list to its more practical possibilities. Real estate expert Mark Abrahamson of Greenfield recommended to the Heath School Transition Team that they put out a request for proposals. “Realistically, you’re not going to get a lot of people to put in a bid. But that’s the way it is. You don’t know what you’re going to get until you put it out there.”

Any building with high-speed internet, a commercial kitchen, handicapped access and good parking (and that describes a lot of school and church buildings) could attract the interest of developers.

In Leyden, town officials charged a modest rent and landed a tenant for their closed elementary school. We hope their success is a harbinger for the county in 2020.

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