The Groton Town Council agreed by consensus Tuesday night to draft a memorandum of understanding that would allow the Noank Fire District to seek grant money to repair the former Noank School.
Councilors did not actually vote on the memorandum as it must still be drafted with the conditions councilors want. That vote would take place at a meeting in two weeks.
But the basic premise is to allow the fire district to use this memorandum to go after state money to fix the building so it may be used. The Noank Reuse Task Force presented a plan Tuesday that seeks to fix the exterior brickwork on the school, paint the exterior metal and wood trim, replace broken or missing windows, and cover the roof, which is leaking, with a spray elastomer covering.
The cost would range from $300,000 to $450,000.
If the fire district is unable to get state grants to complete the work, it would petition the fire district residents to accept a higher tax rate to cover the cost of the work.
“If the fire district refuses to help fund (the repairs), we would have to conclude our efforts because we wouldn’t be able to proceed,” Reuse Committee Member Bryan Burdick said.
The committee’s plan is to use the south section of the building first. The section includes a gym, kitchen, restrooms and eight other large rooms, along with offices and storage areas.
In addition to the outside work, the fire district would have to come up with a system to heat the building, as the former heating system was damaged by the March 2010 floods. There’s no additional ventilation and no air conditioning in the school.
Inside, the refurbishment plans call for cleaning and painting the rooms and replacing damaged or missing ceiling tiles.
Mayor Heather Bond Somers said she has heard from people who do not support the plan for the school or do not know what it entails. She said she is concerned about a project that would add to the tax burden of residents of the fire district.
Other councilors said they were concerned about whether a majority of residents of the fire district actually support the plan.
The district held a meeting to vote on the general plan of taking over the Noank School, and saw the best attendance it has seen at such a meeting in 20 years, one committee member said. Nevertheless, councilors pointed out it was a relatively small portion of the roughly 1,600 people living in the fire district.
Fifty-five people attended, and the vote was 46 in favor and 9 against, said Dr. Ray Johnson, another member of the reuse committee.
Johnson said the fire district residents must be behind the plan, and if the memorandum of understanding is approved, the committee will present the detailed plan to taxpayers.
“We would not move ahead without that support,” he said.
The memorandum of understanding is expected to include conditions such as how long the fire district has to obtain grant funding, whether its plan must be voted again by the taxpayers of the fire district, and what happens if grant money cannot be obtained.
Noank School was originally built in 1947, and was added to in 1963.