At the recent informational meeting held by the Ad Hoc Academy Advisory Committee, there were perhaps three dozen residents in the audience and many, it appeared, were alumni of the Academy Street building, either when it served as an elementary school or years before that when it was the former Daniel Hand High School. Today it sits vacant. What do town residents want to do with it, the ad hoc committee asked.
It seemed clear that most of those attending the special meeting Sept. 25 wanted to see the historic building remain a part of the town's present and future. How that might happen remains undecided as the ad hoc committee continues it study of feasible options for the building's future.
David Kadamus, chair of the committee, opened the information session saying the committee quickly learned it needed a stronger understanding of the history of the building, its location nearby the Green, and its role in Madison's history.
Next he explained the committee's guidelines from the Board of Selectmen. The committee was to consider recommendations or options that were tax neutral or tax positive.
"We are discussing options for the highest and best use of the property," he said, "ones that will result in a net-positive impact to the town's tax base."
Kadamus began to lay out some dollar figures. Reviewing all the previous studies done over the years, the committee estimates a cost of $8.1 million to repair the present building for general use. New state requirements for school buildings make it unlikely that Academy could be used again as a school without extensive and expensive renovation.
"There are decisions and options to be discussed," Kadamus said.
• Should the town retain ownership of the building and property?
• If the decision is to sell, should the town sell just the building or include the adjoining fields?
• If the decision to retain the property, what is the building's future public use, or does the town keep the land and demolish the building?
The ad hoc committee was seeking opinions from its audience on these questions, however, from its own discussions and investigation, it has answered two frequently asked questions about Academy's future.
First, using Academy as a library "is not a viable option," according to Kadamus. Several meetings with representatives from the library and an investigation indicated that the cost of the move and the significant cost of the renovation needed would not make sense.
In addition, Kadamus pointed out, "We would be left with a library building and wondering what to do. We would be replacing one vacant building with another."
Second, the committee investigated renovation of Academy for mid-priced senior housing. This option too proved "not economically viable." Only higher priced housing would prove to be viable for developers, the committee said.
One option discussed by the committee is leasing the building to a non-profit organization. Kadamus said there had been several discussions with the Shoreline Arts Alliance and there could be other non-profits out there.
Another option is future town use, "although this triggers other discussions," Kadamus admitted. Here the idea is to move town government offices back to the Green from the present town campus site. The move would bring additional economic vitality to the downtown. The town campus would then be used for other purposes, such as senior housing.
"We expect that within the next 10 years town government will need more space than where it is now," Kadamus said. "The probate court has already moved from the town campus to Memorial Town Hall. Moving town offices to Academy is an option."
What is the market value of the Academy building and property in this economic climate, Mitchell Cohen asked. Anywhere from $1 to $1 million, depending on who was being asked. Matt Callahan of the ad hoc committee said it had brought in a few developers from out of town and received renovation estimates from them ranging from $5 to $7 million.
After about an hour of questions, answers, and comments, one audience member said, "The choices here don't appear to be economic?Many people have attachments to this building?the value of this building is its history" and its place in Madison. Others applauded.
Then there was the letter from Lorraine Lupone, who asked that the community please save the former Daniel Hand High School and Academy Street School. She endorsed a long term plan to renovate the building for town offices and community use. In combination with the Green and the Memorial Town Hall, "we can honor our beginnings." They are "our heart and soul," she wrote. The school was the place where the community experienced its "great lessons of life and learning."
The ad hoc committee expects to hold another public session this month or next.