Cohanzie supporters ask RTM to revisit preservation options

Waterford - Kathleen Reagan urged members of the Representative Town Meeting on Monday to consider three items that would push the town a step further in examining ways to save Cohanzie School from demolition.

Reagan is leading a group of residents who have named themselves Save Our Cohanzie School.

She asked the RTM to form a committee to accept an offer from the State Historic Preservation Office and the CT Trust for Historic Preservation to take "a new look at Cohanzie" and that the same committee come up with a community or town use for the 1923 building. She also asked that the committee ensure that the land remain public.

"It is not too late to save Cohanzie," she said to the RTM. "Historic buildings are often saved at the last minute ... We all grew up under the shadow of Cohanzie, and we all took for granted that it was there and that it would always be there."

She said representatives from SHPO and the CT Trust have recently visited Cohanzie and have said that it is a strong, sturdy building that could be repurposed.

A stay of demolition is in effect for the building, buying it time until late July before demolition can begin. Reagan filed for the stay of demolition herself and submitted a list of about 20 signatures obtained from residents she said want to save Cohanzie too.

RTM member William Auwood submitted a letter to the town, requesting that a process be in place before demolition.

"If we get into a situation, and we are going to sell the property, it's on the market now, it would mean that we don't end up like Seaside," Auwood said. "If 'A' is going to come in and say 'I want this property and want it demolished,' then, where's your money? Where are your plans? Why go through what happened to Fort Trumbull, what they're about to do in Preston and what's probably about to happen at Seaside? Everyone is looking for a handout, Mr. Moderator, and I think they've come to the wrong town."

Reagan said Monday evening that she has been told by First Selectman Daniel Steward that in order to save the school she needs to present a viable alternative for its reuse along with the money to buy it or find someone who will.

"I am a private citizen, not a realty company. I cannot market Cohanzie," she said.

Steward said that there is already a committee.

"That's where we would start. It has members of the RTM, Board of Finance and neighbors on it," he said. "Once we got turned down by everybody, it stopped (being active) about three years ago."

He said the town has already tried the SHPO option.

"We've been through SHPO. It's not like we don't listen to them, we don't have anyone to do anything with it. I'm not going to build something for nothing," he said.

New London resident Elsie (Sisson) Haynes-Pearson said four or five generations of her family have gone to Cohanzie.

"I've got great-nieces and great-nephews that have gone to that school. There's no reason to destroy it," she said. "Use it for senior citizens. Every single one of those rooms are big, each one could be turned into an efficiency apartment. Every part of that building can be reused. There's no reason to get rid of it."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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