Turnover of building to school district approved
By an uncharacteristically narrow 36-30 vote, the Representative Town Meeting turned over maintenance and operation of the Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Ave. to the school board Monday night.
Members of the group voted down an amendment proposed by Joanne Hennessy, chairwoman of the Planning, Zoning and Housing Committee, to add language giving the town the right to move the Board of Education elsewhere if officials believe it is the right thing to do.
Hennessy said committee members also had misgivings about approving the transfer until the town reached an understanding with the board giving public groups the right to schedule events in the building’s large meeting room.
Hennessy said the unamended resolution could be interpreted to imply the board’s consent was necessary to relocate out of the building at some point.
“In 15 years none of us are going to be here and we wanted somewhere in writing for people in the future reading it that we were thinking ahead that, “yes we can look at this for another use,’” Hennessy said.
“What else do we need?” Davis said.
A resolution considered in October by the RTM was postponed until Monday night over a variety of issues brought forward, including access to the building by public groups and whether the town had an obligation to taxpayers to stay in control of ongoing improvement projects to the town’s former public library in 2013.
The Board of Education moved its central administrative offices into the building in April 2013 as part of a $7 million project that involved swapping space at the former Mather Community Center to enable the town to build an expanded senior center and close the town’s former senior center in a dilapidated building at 30 Edgerton St.
When asked whether the failed resolution could undermine the town’s ability to take back the property, Town Attorney John Wayne Fox said any decision to transfer the Board of Education to a different facility would likely involve a cooperative process.
State law requires local Board of Educations to have control of schools and all properties used for school purposes, Fox said.
“The town may require the space for an alternate use and would arrive at a solution with the mutual acceptance and cooperation of the Board of Education,” Fox said. “If you put this in the way it is phrased there is a suggestion that you have the right to throw the Board of Education out when you wish. I don’t in fact believe that is the law.”
Davis said the finance and budget committee voted seven in favor and one opposed to recommend approving the transfer of the property, but is trying to obtain a full accounting of the costs of the so-called “Shuffle” project, which included the renovation of 35 Leroy Ave. from a library to school office space.
As work on the project neared completion in August, town officials learned that cost overruns on the project were more than $1 million, prompting some legislators to press for a full breakdown of the project and all related costs.
Davis said questions about whether the town should maintain some kind of official control over incomplete projects to the building are misplaced because the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education agreed last year those projects would be included in the district’s capital budget.
“The jurisdiction over these last capital items associated with the shuffle is separate from the accounting of whether these terms should be included in as part of the overall (Shuffle project) cost,” Davis said.
The board also voted to approve the acceptance of a gift of up to $65,000 from the Darien Foundation for Technology and Community toward buying electronic equipment to outfit a new Darien police boat.
Legislators said the money would significantly reduce the $285,000 cost of buying the boat, which is expected to have more modern rescue equipment, including a night vision system and side scanning sonar to improve search-and-rescue efforts on Long Island Sound.