In response to Dean Alexander’s letter from the Oct. 23, 2019 edition concerning the proposed purchase of the Black River High School building by the town of Ludlow, he makes several good points, but some of his information may be out-of-date.
Per the Selectboard’s “Black River High School Feasibility Report,” the annual expected maintenance cost of the building to the town would be $300,000, double what Dean indicated. Should the independent school materialize, it’s expected to have revenue of $1.2 million and pay $200,000 to the town for use of the top two floors.
The report discusses other “possible” uses of the first floor space, including expansion office space for the township, larger conference room area, and use by the Recreation Department. The only possible revenue streams suggested were for other educational activities or renting space to nonprofit organizations, though neither of these appear to have been vetted by any possible tenants and would certainly not come close to covering the $300,000 maintenance expense.
While the report paints a glowing picture of how the building is up to code, it was built in 1938 and besides some new windows – the town would have to pay to complete the window upgrades – it certainly doesn’t meet today’s need for energy efficient buildings. Noticeably missing is any kind of energy audit even though Efficiency Vermont offers them. The two boilers are also 22 years old and numerous efficiency upgrades are now available.
It’s obvious to the casual observer that the report was written to justify the purchase of the building by the town in support of the independent school, a high school that the voters three times voted to close.
On the positive side, the purchase includes the building and, for recreational purposes, the baseball field and the “back 40;” the building is designated as an emergency shelter for the town; the town could control the smoke-free, drug-free, safe environment around the elementary school.
Before making a final decision Nov. 12 at the special town meeting, there are a number of outstanding questions that need to be answered at the Nov. 5 meeting, starting with why is this vote not by Australian ballot where the whole town has the opportunity to decide rather than the few who can attend a special town meeting?
I think anything that comes with a minimum annual expense of $300,000, having a significant impact on property taxes, should go before the whole town. It makes me wonder what they’ve “swept under the rug.”
Other questions include:
- What exactly will the increase property tax be per $1 assessed value for the full $300,000?
- Why wasn’t an energy audit done and how much would it cost to make the building energy efficient?
- What would the annual maintenance cost be if Ludlow bought the building and “moth-balled” it until a suitable use or tenant is found or sold?
- While the building is appraised at $1.8 million, what can Ludlow actually get for it on the open market? Is there any interest in the building?
- Has the independent school actually committed to the $200,000 annual rent?
- Have any potential tenants been contacted to see if there is interest and what is a realistic potential rental income beyond the independent school?
If Ludlow doesn’t purchase the building, at least the annual maintenance cost continues to be shared with Mount Holly residents until the building is sold. I have serious doubts it will sell anytime soon – unless it’s given away. In that situation, another question is: is there anything stopping the independent school from renting the space from the School Board?
They wouldn’t have the same level of “security” in location, but it’s inappropriate to risk $300,000 of taxpayer money annually until they can show a continued income sufficient to maintain the school. One final question: if Ludlow doesn’t purchase the building next year, the building doesn’t sell, and the independent school flourishes, can the School Board offer Ludlow the option to buy it again for $1 at a later date?