Westerly City Council Seeks Planning Council Advice on Possible Sale of Bradford School | West
WEST – City Council is seeking an advisory opinion from Planning Council on its plans to sell the old Bradford School property with a view to finding a buyer willing to develop the property for senior housing.
Council voted 6-1 at a meeting Monday to ask Planning Council for an opinion at its January 18 meeting. State law requires planning boards to determine whether municipal properties have continued public use before municipalities can sell properties. Councilor Christopher Duhamel stressed the need to hear from planning council, but voted against the council motion, saying council and city staff would likely need more time to research.
Two residents have spoken out against the sale of the property and a few others have expressed the same opinion in written comments. A few residents submitted written comments saying they were in favor of the council’s proposal to sell the property.
Acting City Manager Shawn Lacey described the building’s problems and estimated it would cost around $ 500,000 to repair its roof and exterior brick walls, which he said allows water to enter in the building and cause a mold problem. The building was taken offline as a school at the end of the 2016-2017 school year due to downsizing and has been used as space for recreation department staff and some recreation programs in recent years. .
Councilors said they were leaning towards selling the property to relieve the city of the maintenance costs associated with the building and as a potential way to address what they called the city’s senior housing shortage.
“I can’t justify a building that is only used for table tennis and a little bit of basketball,” Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said. He added that he believed that selling the property for any purpose Housing for the elderly was a good approach, but added that he could support the demolition of the school building and that the city retain ownership of the land.
Board chairperson Sharon Ahern said conversations were underway with the Recreation Board regarding the transfer of recreation programs from the Bradford School building to the former Tower Street school, which the board recently leased to the Royce Family Foundation. The foundation offered to lead a community discussion to determine potential uses for the Tower Street building. Some residents urged city officials to resume use of the Tower Street building for social services and educational organizations. These types of uses flourished when the building was operated by the school department as an education-focused community center.
Duhamel requested a detailed report on the cost of operating the Bradford School building with an expanded recreation program.
“The cost needs to be assessed. We haven’t had a breakdown on what it would cost to maintain the building,” said Duhamel.
William Aiello, a former city council member and Bradford resident, raised several concerns during and after the meeting, including the speed at which the council appeared to be moving to sell the Bradford property.
“All of the previous discussions were in executive session. It was the audience’s first opportunity, and it’s a shock to come without a public discussion. Let’s have thoughtful discussion and community planning. Let’s get the community involved and talk and see what the community would like. “said Aïello.
Aiello also questioned Lacey’s estimate of the cost of necessary repairs, saying it seemed high, and said more recreation and other programs were being held in the Bradford School building than those mentioned by the members of the council. For example, he said, open gym sessions are held and the building has been used for blood drives, Red Cross trainings and a recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Other organizations have expressed interest in using the building, Aiello said.
The interior of the Bradford building was remodeled in the 1980s following a fire, which means it is more modern than the Tower Street School building, Aiello said. At the very least, Aiello said, the city should retain ownership of the Bradford School land for potential uses in the future.