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Hatfield OKs Center School redevelopment plans

  • The former Center School is shown May 10 in Hatfield.  Gazette file photo

  • A staircase leading from the first floor to the second floor of the former Center School is shown from above May 10 in Hatfield. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff

  • Kindergarten chairs are shown inside an old classroom inside the former Center School May 10 in Hatfield. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff

  • An original steam boiler used to heat the former Center School is shown May 10 in the Hatfield building. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff

  • A second story hallway inside the former Center School is shown May 10 in Hatfield. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff

  • Old Town Meeting chairs are shown stored inside the former Center School May 10 in Hatfield. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff

  • An old classroom inside the former Center School is shown May 10 in Hatfield. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff

  • A second story hallway inside the former Center School is shown from a staircase May 10 in Hatfield. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff



@DHGCrosby
Wednesday, September 14, 2016

HATFIELD — After more than a decade of false starts and aborted plans, a redevelopment plan for the old Center School is poised to move ahead.

The Select Board on Tuesday accepted a proposal from developers Barry L. Roberts and Donald Southwick to convert the 100-year-old village center landmark into eight condominiums.

Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst also will partner in the project.

Residents at Town Meeting this year voted overwhelmingly to convert the vacant building to condominiums for people age 55 and older rather than see it demolished.

Roberts and Southwick expressed their desire to “bring new life” to the old structure, according to their proposal. Last attended by schoolchildren in 1980, the building has been vacant for over a decade.

The proposal calls for eight units to be created within the building’s current structure. The units will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom condos.

On the front, north and south sides, the historic facade will not be altered except for preservation repairs and new energy-efficient windows and doors. Facade changes would be on the east side of the building.

At a meeting Sept. 7, Roberts said holes would be punched in the Center School’s lower level to create eight garages, one for each unit. Additional parking was suggested for the back of the building within the existing paved area.

Construction of an east-side entrance was also proposed, leading residents into an elevator that would service the upper two floors.

Decks, also on the east side, could provide a view toward the river across the town-owned playing fields.

The units will be outfitted with “all the desired comforts that prospective purchasers will be seeking,” according to the proposal.

Landscape improvements proposed for the front side would start to “soften the building,” Roberts said.

Select Board members spoke to the strength of the proposal in meetings Tuesday and last week.

Roberts and Southwick provided in their proposal a commitment letter from Greenfield Savings Bank. The letter indicated support for the Center School project with confirmation of a commercial mortgage loan pre-approval for the men, who are “highly regarded customers,” according to the letter.

“Everybody just can’t say enough about Barry Roberts and the work that he does,” Town Administrator Marlene Michonski said. “And, how well he communicates with the communities that he does work in.”

Select Board Chairman Patrick Gaughan called the pair’s references “absolutely outstanding.”

Roberts and Southwick have also offered to cover the cost of hazardous material remediation and abatement up to $300,000, which Selectmen Marcus Boyle and Brian Moriarty called “a nice touch.”

Although Town Meeting already authorized the borrowing of $200,000 to be used for asbestos removal, the offer made by Roberts and Southwick would save the town that cost.

“Whether we make any money or not is a risk we’re willing to take,” Southwick said during the earlier meeting.

“But when we’re all said and done, we’re going to walk away, look at that building, and say ‘we did a nice job and we’re happy with what we did,’” he said.

Within the proposal, Roberts submitted five examples of his work restoring old school buildings, including the D.A. Sullivan School, Hawley Grammar School and Williams Street School, all in Northampton.

(The past projects) “speak wonders for the type of businesspeople you are and the type of creativity you have,” Moriarty said.

“Where have you been?” he later joked.

A round of applause broke out from meeting attendees when the board unanimously approved the proposal.

The project now awaits a purchase and sale agreement.

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.com.