Hatfield voters OK preservation plan for Center School

Voters approve sale of building, preserve playing fields

  • Smith Academy athletic director David Keir speaks during discussion of Article 14 at Hatfield's annual town meeting held at the high school on Tuesday. —Kevin Gutting

  • Mark Gelotte, a member of the Hatfield Open Space Committee, speaks in support of Article 17, seeking to preserve two-thirds of the land behind the old Center School, during Hatfield's annual Town Meeting at Smith Academy, Tuesday. At podium is Moderator Joe Lavallee. The article passed. KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hatfield town meeting members stand to be counted for a vote on article on the warrant during the annual meeting held at Smith Academy on Tuesday. —Kevin Gutting

  • A sign calling for the former Center School to be saved from demolition is shown in front of the building May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • A second story hallway inside the former Center School is shown May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • An original steam boiler used to heat the former Center School is shown May 10 in the Hatfield building. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • A staircase leading from the first floor to the second floor of the former Center School is shown from above May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • An original steam boiler used to heat the former Center School is shown May 10 in the Hatfield building. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • A second story hallway inside the former Center School is shown from a staircase May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Old Town Meeting chairs are shown stored inside the former Center School May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • An old classroom inside the former Center School is shown May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Kindergarten chairs are shown inside an old classroom inside the former Center School May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • An aging wall in the basement of the former Center School is shown May 10 in the Hatfield building. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • The former Center School is shown May 10 in Hatfield. Articles 14, 15 and 17 on the annual Town Meeting's warrant address issues around the former school. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

@DHGCrosby
Published: 5/11/2016 12:26:19 AM

HATFIELD — The former Center School was once again a focal point of the annual Town Meeting, but this year with a different outcome.

Residents voted Tuesday night to authorize the sale of the town-owned building for conversion to condominiums for people age 55 and older. According to the vote, the building will be sold with 33,400 square feet of land, but the town-owned playing fields behind the school will not be included in the sale.

A spirited discussion resulted in a 222-16 vote in favor of reusing the school. Voters also authorized the treasurer to borrow $200,000 to be used for asbestos removal and any costs related to selling the property.

Michael Cahill said during the meeting that Hatfield already has seen two historical buildings “go by the wayside,” and that it is time to “put a stop to wrecking historical buildings for once and for all.”

E. Lary Grossman, chairman of the Hatfield Redevelopment Authority, said the authority has created a reuse scenario that takes none of the fields and generates money to the town, citing a Select Board-commisioned 2014 Pioneer Valley Planning Commission study projecting the proposed condominiums would generate an estimated $46,790 in annual tax revenue. He said there would also be a water and sewer fee for the building, which would put funds back into Hatfield water and wastewater departments that are currently operating under a deficit.

“I’m so proud of the residents who made the effort to learn about the project, come to Town Meeting, and give their support to saving the school,” Grossman said. “Common sense prevailed and we have the potential for ... tax revenue and a vibrant town center.”

Town Meeting voters had previously approved up to $400,000 for demolishing the school. However, in July, the Historical Commission placed a one-year moratorium on the demolition of the 100-year-old building, which has been vacant for over a decade.

The article as approved this year allowed 180 days from the date of Town Meeting for the sale to take place before the Select Board moves forward with the demolition. However, on a motion by Jeff Zgrodnik, voters approved an extension to 270 days.

Zgrodnik cited the required asbestos abatement and theoretical buyer’s procurement of financing as reasons why more time was needed for a sale to go through.

“I really want to see this happen,” he said. But, he said, these processes could “easily eat up that time.”

Voters also authorized the treasurer to borrow $270,000 for abatement and demolition if the school does not sell during the given time period, and authorized the Open Space Committee to protect a 6.28-acre portion on the east side of the property for conservation restriction purposes.

Roughly 250 Hatfield residents, or fewer than 10 percent of the town’s 2,615 registered voters, attended the meeting in Smith Academy’s Sherry A. Webb Gymnasium, and many engaged in conversation surrounding the school.

When Smith Academy athletic director David Keir expressed concerns, including whether the “active fields” would be a source of tension with a prospective buyer and residents, Grossman assured him that the playing field was an “attractive backyard” for the residents with “box seats” for field hockey games, speaking of the condominiums.

“The townspeople have spoken loud and clear that they recognize the significance of the building, and I’m delighted,” said Grossman, when asked about his projected outcome in a conversation preceding the meeting.

He said reusing the building would continue the legacy of generations of children who have “gone to that school, walked in those hallways, and played in those fields.”

All of the work done by the Hatfield Redevelopment Authority was worth it, he said, adding that he is thrilled with the result.

“Let’s hope it’s over, this time,” said Moderator Joe Lavallee at the conclusion of the voting on articles relating to the school.

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




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