WEST HARTFORD — The town is buying the former St. Brigid’s campus for $3 million with the hopes of possibly creating a community or cultural center.
The town council recently approved the purchase in a 6-to-2 vote with councilors Mary Fay and Chris Williams opposing.
“I think it provides us with a once in a generation opportunity,” Town Manager Matt Hart said. “It will enable us to construct a more energy efficient and sustainable facility that can better meet our current needs as well as our future program needs.”
The town council authorized town staff to begin negotiating with the Saint Gianna Parish Corporation in March to buy the former school at 100 Mayflower St., as well as put money aside to cover the purchase. Since then, all of the needed building and environmental inspections have been completed and came back favorable. The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission also unanimously recommended buying it, Hart said.
He said the closing would happen early next month.
Once the purchase is completed, the town will hire a consultant to work with the community and town officials to determine how the building should be used. This could take six to 12 months and would be followed by the design phase of the project, which could take another 12 months or so, Hart said.
In the meantime, he said they could either use the building for limited services or “mothball it.”
Some of the possible short-term possibilities would be leisure services programs, public safety training, and social services activities. This option would cost about $150,000 a year, Hart said.
The mothball option would have a one-time $25,000 cost and an annual $16,000 cost to maintain, heat and plow the building, he said.
Most of the town council welcomed the purchase and the open-ended possibilities, such as adding a cultural center, teen center, library branch and community center, while some said there were too many unknowns.
Fay and Williams compared it to the possible University of Connecticut purchase from years ago, that came in much higher than expected.
“It’s always bigger than you think,” Fay said, adding the town would have to remediate the site regardless of whether they renovate the building or construct something new there.
Those remediation costs could be between $1.6 million and $2.8 million, she said.
“I’m very concerned about what this can turn into and the ongoing maintenance costs,” Fay said, adding it was a want, not a need.
Councilor Ben Wenograd said this project’s numbers aren’t expected to be anywhere near the UConn example, which was ultimately rejected because the costs were too high. He also said they could sell the current Elmwood Community Center for commercial use and have that offset the costs.
There is $3 million set aside in the current capital plan for the purchase, which matches the town’s appraisal, as well as another $3 million in next year’s capital plan to cover other costs for the building. Some officials said there is also a chance for state bonding.
The majority of the council said the project was a need for the town, especially for senior and teen programming.
“We have growing needs for kids in this town and we have growing needs for our seniors and we have growing needs for our library,” Councilor Liam Sweeney said. “We have facilities that are outdated and they’re going to need to be updated.”
The current Elmwood Community Center was built in the 1920s and some councilors said they were told it would have to be expanded or developed soon.
Councilor Carol Blanks said she was very familiar with St. Brigid’s because her daughter attended the school 29 years ago and she lives in that part of town. She said acquiring it is a great opportunity for the Elmwood community and town overall.
“I know when St. Brigid was active, it was such a draw for that community,” she said, adding a community center there could have the same effect, providing the chance for indoor and outdoor activities, including basketball tournaments.
Jill Spear, the library board’s chairwoman, said the Faxon branch is highly used but the is challenged by the condition of the facility. She and other library officials welcomed the purchase of the building and what it could mean for the library and community center in that part of town.
“A new facility could not only provide the core library services the community enjoys today but provide the infrastructure needed to see us far into the future,” she said.
She also said she was happy town officials had a similar vision and were seeking input from the community on what to do with the site. She asked that the board to not just move the community center and library down the street.
“Create facilities that sustain and nurture a resilient community and leading civic capabilities,” Spear told the town council. “Take this rare opportunity to create the jewel in the crown.”