Black River High School building feasibility study

Dear Editor,

Over the summer, the Ludlow Selectboard had a Feasibility Committee investigate the purchase of the school building, baseball field, and adjoining land. Below are some of the highlights and recommendations from that report.

Per the Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District merger agreement, when BRMHS closes June 30, 2020, the building must be offered to the town for $1.

If the town does not acquire the building, it can be sold on the open market. If sold on the open market, the town will lose control over who becomes Ludlow Elementary School’s neighbor. We would like to promote a non-smoking, drug-free, and safe environment.

If the town does not buy the building, the building may be left abandoned.

Potential uses for the BRMHS building

The Fire Marshall’s report regarding broad uses for the building – without triggering code issues – opens the possibility of utilizing the space for town offices, as well as generating revenue by renting space to other organizations.

Some of the specific potential uses of the BRMHS building:

The current Community Recreation Center is located adjacent to both the building and grounds and ownership of the building would allow the Recreation Department to provide continued recreation program offerings, as well as access the building for overflow space for any programming needs.

The first floor could be utilized by the TRSU After School and Summer Programs. For example, the summer program, which operates outside at West Hill Recreational Center, could use the first floor for indoor activities in the event of inclement weather.

Black River Independent School could become a tenant of the BRMHS building after BRMHS closes in June 2020, occupying the second and third floor for classrooms and offices and using the first floor as needed and available for assemblies and other student activities.

Other available classroom space could host Adult Learning – community college classes, continuing education classes, online courses, or professional development activities offered through organizations, such as Castleton University.

The first floor could be a used by community organizations. The large classroom has Wi-Fi availability, kitchen amenities, and a large seating area that would be suitable for hosting Selectboard and Trustee meetings, Chamber of Commerce activities, etc.

First-floor space could be rented to nonprofit organizations such as the Visiting Nurses Association and Council on Aging or used for senior activities. The first floor could be secured by keypad.

The BRMHS building is designated as an emergency shelter that could be used to house community residents in the event there is a need.

Expense considerations

The U39 School Board 2017-2018 General Fund Budget, which included the BRMHS building expenses, provides a realistic estimate of what expenses will be to maintain the building:

  • The cost of maintaining the building including custodial services, heat, and electricity are about $300,000 per year. This includes approximately $150,000 in custodial staff help.
  • The total maintenance cost for 2017-18 was $341,544.
  • The art room, band room, gymnasium, and other shared spaces were included in this $341,544 expense and because they are in the LES building, they would not be an expense for the BRMHS building.
  • The cost of finishing the replacement windows project is approximately $25,000.
  • If the oil tank were to fail, the deductible is $10,000.
  • The annual cost for town insurance of the building should be about $4,622.

Revenue considerations

It may be possible for the town to generate revenue through rental agreements with Black River Independent School, as well as other organizations.

Black River Independent School, which will provide important continuity and new opportunities for BRMHS students and be a great complement to Ludlow Elementary School, anticipates 75 students its first year of operation, primarily from Ludlow and Mount Holly; $1.2 million revenue its first year in the form of state tuition dollars; expenses of $200,000 its first year to pay the town as part of a full-service lease.

  Risk considerations

If the Black River Independent School does not occupy the second and third floors, the town will have $150,000 to $300,000 in negative cash flow for the building. If the school occupies the second and third floors, but the town does not secure tenants for the first floor, the town could have $100,000 negative cash flow for the building.

The town would not be able to sell the restricted use building for five years unless they compensate LMHUUSD for capital improvements done to the building by LMHUUSD. Acquisition of the BRMHS building could cause an increase in Ludlow municipal taxes.

If the Black River Independent School does not come to fruition, the town would be left owning and maintaining a property it does not need.

The town legally cannot use the BRMHS building and land to develop housing.

Recommendations

We recommend that the town purchase the BRMHS building and land from the LMHUUSD for $1. We recommend that the town rent the second and third floors of the building to Black River Independent School to offer local education for grades 7-12.

We recommend that the town use the “back 40” of land to provide town residents access to walking paths and the ropes course and provide outdoor and nature classroom space for the schools.

We recommend that the town accept the deeded uses of the subdivision done by the LMHUUSD, which will specify access to the “back 40,” the ball field, and parking for educational purposes.

We recommend that the town utilize the first floor of the building for community space or rent it to select organizations, including Black River Independent School, as needed and available.

We recommend that the town contract with LMHUUSD to utilize the existing custodial staff as they have complete knowledge of the building.

We recommend that the town complete the windows project at a cost of approximately $25,000.

Please join the Selectboard Nov. 4, 2019 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall for an informational meeting and Nov. 12, 2019 at 7 p.m. for the vote on the purchase.

Sincerely,

Dan Buckley

Ludlow, Vt.

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