NORTH STONINGTON — With the school construction project now complete, town officials are trying to determine the best way to address an unused wing within the North Stonington Education Center.
The town is seeking a partnership with an educational organization that would be able to use the autonomous, single-story wing adjacent to the Board of Education offices. First Selectman Michael Urgo said Thursday that the hope is to find a tenant and use for the facility that would meet deed restrictions, remove maintenance costs from the municipal budget and provide new opportunities in the center of the village.
"Over the past four years, we've had a couple people express interest in using the property," Urgo said. "It was way too early in the process at that point, but we are exploring this as part of a larger effort to determine exactly what the options may be."
Members of the Board of Selectmen voted on June 23 to move forward in seeking proposals for the vacant portion of the property. The space available is 26,322 square feet in size and includes 16 classrooms, a fully functional cafeteria and service area, and an office suite.
Under conditions of the RFP, those interested in renting the property would be responsible for providing insurance for the portion of the facility. Tenants would also be liable for any utility costs, including heat, electricity and cable, as well as maintenance and repairs to electrical systems and above-ground plumbing, parking area improvements and landscaping services. New tenants would also be responsible for any costs associated with janitorial services, painting or other renovation needs.
Finding a suitable tenant to fill the position could present a challenge for town officials, however. In addition to seeking a tenant willing to take on maintenance and upkeep of the property, deed restrictions also limit what the property could be used as.
The property is owned by the Wheeler School and Library, and as a result of conditions when the land was acquired, the space must be specifically "for educational purposes only."
"It's a unique situation because although there were concerns regarding the need to bring the facility up to code for use as a public school, but use for private entities, including technical schools, regional education programs, special education schools or even fitness-based programs, are not subject to such rigorous code restrictions and requirements," he said.
Urgo noted that because of the circumstances, the town did not seek a monetary figure but instead required that applicants include a proposed rent when submitting their application with the town. He said the goal isn't to create a rental income, but rather to take the costs and maintenance off the books so that taxpayers are no longer liable.
The town will also still move forward in seeking a separate RFP in the coming weeks to determine what the cost would be for demolition.
In fact, demolition was included in early conceptual plans for the project as an alternative option before unexpected costs associated with PCB and hazardous material remediation in the elementary forced members of the School Modernization Building Committee to reallocate funds in order to keep the project on budget.
Urgo said he hopes it won't come to that.
"Given the location in the center of the village, we believe there could be suitors out there who would make a potential investment in the building and would allow us to negotiate an attractive rental situation for all involved," Urgo said. "We are moving forward now in case there is a need for space by fall."
Those with questions are asked to submit them in writing no later than July 24. All proposals must be submitted in writing to North Stonington Town Hall no later than 3 p.m. on Aug. 3.
For more information including access to the full RFP, visit northstoningtonct.gov/bids.