BRISTOL – The city held its first meeting of the Memorial Boulevard Task Force. This task force is another attempt to determine what to do with the historic building. Co-Chairperson Zoppo-Sassu called the Monday, April 14, 2014 Special Meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. To Figure Out What To Do With The Former School
Members of the Committee include, Commissioner Frank Stawski, Board of Public Works, Commissioner Peter DelMastro, Zoning Commission, Commissioner Michael Alderi, Real Estate Appraiser, Commissioner James Albert, President, Chamber of Commerce, Commissioner Cheryl Thibeault, Board of Finance, Commissioner William Stortz, former Mayor.
Co-Chairperson Zoppo-Sassu stated that the issue of the reuse of Memorial Boulevard School has been under review for the last two years and it is time to bring it to the next level. At the last City Council meeting on April 8, 2014, Mayor Cockayne formed the Mayor’s Task Force for Memorial Boulevard and assigned the following tasks.
The Committee is charged with all of the matters that concern the school, including, but not limited to, the plan from the Planning Commission, uses of the facility, management of the building for public and private use, landscape plan, parking, funding, budget, detailed plan on how to develop the plan that’s been proposed, a financial impact to the City of Bristol, as well as tax implications. From an organizational standpoint, there has been a lot of interest of the School since its closure.
All City Departments have given their input for the use of the school. She noted that she and Councilman Martin have pulled together all these resources and have provided each Commissioner with a packet. This information has been uploaded to the City’s website along with the names of the Commission Members and a calendar of the meetings. The website can be found at http://www.bristolct.gov/mbstf.
Co-Chairpersons Zoppo-Sassu and Martin put together a schedule of meetings which will include two meetings in May, two in June, one in July, one in August and two in September.
Co-Chairperson Zoppo-Sassu stated that the Planning Commission has recommended that the city retain the building, and that the Task Force should investigate the potential of converting it to a multi-purpose facility containing two of the following uses: The art center that contains the theater, gallery space, studio space, classroom space, etc., co-working spaces, small business start-up, business and technology incubators, or institutional uses, such a government offices or educational facilities which could include a welcome visitors center, museums, a veterans facility and/or a new City Hall. The Planning Commission also recommend that we initiate the nomination of the school for inclusion on the National Registry of Historical Places and on the Connecticut Register. They would like this Commission to establish in greater detail the potential management and operational issues associated with such a multi-purpose facility.
Commissioner Thibeault stated that if we are looking to include the building on the National Registry of Historical Places, we need to complete this first as it would limit what we can or can’t do with the building. We need to determine what those limitations are. Councilwoman Zoppo-Sassu said a listing is more of an honorary tribute and does not tie the hands of the City in terms of restoration, but does encourage best practices in terms of the Secretary of Interior standards. It also raises the bar for grant applications.
Commissioner Stortz stated that when the City Council approved the Concept Plan by Renaissance, it included Memorial Boulevard School and wanted to know how this would affect the Commissions determination. Co-Chairman Martin stated that it was originally proposed but that portion of the Concept Plan was shot down.
Commissioner Alderi had some concerns on retaining ownership of the building. He questioned if the City was willing to expend the amount of money it would cost to retain this building and bring it up to code.
Co-Chairperson Zoppo-Sassu stated that it appears from listening to all the Commissioner’s Comments that sub-committees need to be formed.
In the public participation portion of the meeting 5 residents spoke their minds.
Bruce Suchinski said “what the Housing Authority did with Dutton Heights. The Housing Authority brought in a developer (Carabetta) to manage the property and perform all the improvements to the property for 10 years. At the end of the 10 years the Housing Authority has the option to terminate the developer and the Housing Authority could retain the property, which could be a tax credit program that could be adapted for Memorial Boulevard School as well. He also stated that he is in favor of energy efficiency and discussed solar and geo-thermal tax rebates.”
Richard Rich said “I’m in favor of the arts and technology proposal that the Chamber had put together. There are a lot of logistical issues involved with Memorial Boulevard and the Commission needs to determine if the Planning Commission’s recommendation is feasible. He feels that the Commission should obtain a copy of the blueprints of the building as it is a needed resource. He also stated that a financial feasibility is in order for the Commission to move forward. ”
Cheryl Barb thanked the Planning Commission for recommending that Memorial Boulevard be placed on the National Registry of Historical Places. She suggested that the Committee find a Preservation Architect to conduct a preservation assessment of the building.
Shawn Ruest recommended that the Committee come up with several different options for the re-use and not just one. He would like the citizens of Bristol to be allowed to review the plans and then make a decision for its re-use. He is in favor of the historical preservation of the building and of a Veterans Center.
David Fortier stated that he feels City employees could help with doing some of the legwork for the Committee due to their expertise. He doesn’t feel the Committee should fear the financial aspect of this project. The Committee will be doing a rough draft on paper and we need to have actual numbers in order for the public to make an informed decision on its re-use.
The next meeting is set for sometime in May.