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Waterford moves slowly on what to do with Cohanzie School

Waterford - The town is hitting the restart button and preparing to send out requests for information (RFIs) again to make sure there isn't anyone who is interested in making use of Cohanzie School.

The Board of Selectmen met Tuesday and voted to hire consulting firm Planimetrics to ensure that the town was involving citizens enough in Cohanzie School decisions. Planimetrics' job will be assisting public participation and conducting a preliminary market feasibility study for reuse of the site.

However, at the same time, the town is working on a plan to clean up the site, find a developer and possibly demolish the building if that is what the developer would need.

"We are running in parallel to come up with a vision for the site whether it is reuse of the school or not," said Waterford Planning Director Dennis Goderre. "Then using that, too, as a guide, if you will, for selecting a developer for the property."

In April, the Representative Town Meeting approved demolishing the school but residents, including Kathleen Reagan, organizer of Save Our Cohanzie School, spoke out against razing the building.

On Tuesday, Reagan said she and others who opposed demolishing the school would prefer that the town reuse at least the historic half of the school, which was built in 1923. She said people have told her they would like to see the school turned into a recreation center and a library.

Reagan admitted that the building needs work, but that she wanted to hear what the State Historic Preservation Office said it would cost to refurbish the building before it was demolished. Perhaps the town could pay to refurbish the building, she added.

But the town has already said it is not interested in the property for municipal purposes, Goderre said. The town has also already gotten the green light for demolition from SHPO, Steward said.

The town is willing to put out another round of requests for information (RFIs) in the next couple of weeks in order to see if there is anyone who has a plan to reuse the school property before it is demolished, Steward said.

"It's (RFIs) really a no cost option to say, let's make sure we haven't left any stone unturned," Steward said.

He said the new round of RFIs were in part due to Reagan's persistence.

"We are listening, we are not sticking our heads in the sand," he said.

He said there were a couple of new people interested in the property but that they hadn't seen the inside of the building yet. He added he would be scheduling a time to show all interested parties at the same time.

When asked whether he thought there would be a buyer for the property "as is" he said, "no, but you never know."

Robert Nye, town clerk and town historian, also said he was not optimistic about finding a buyer for the property as is.

Reagan filed a stay of demolition previously so the town cannot start demolishing the building until late July, and Goderre said it would take a year to 18 months to finish demolition plans anyway.

At this point, "we wouldn't demolish the building until we have a developer in mind," he added.

"If a developer says they can viably reuse the building, and it works into their business model and it's a clear win, win for all angles from the town, then by all means, then let them clean it up and renovate it."

But the buyer has to have the money to do the renovation, the town would not be paying for that, he said.

If the town was to sell the building it would be looking for a price between $400,000 and $500,000. And if the town was to sell the land after the demolition it would be looking for $800,000 to $900,000.

Steward said there were a couple of developers who were interested in the land if the building were demolished. One of the two was interested in building apartments, he said.

"Mostly what we are looking at is some form of housing, senior housing makes sense, some forms of affordable housing make sense," Steward said.

j.somers@theday.com

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