What should the town of New Milford do with an aging school building about to close and the valuable real estate it calls home?

A discussion already percolating among many in town over the past few months has become official during meetings of the New Milford Board of Education's subcommittees on John Pettibone School's future.

Pettibone will close in June, after serving the town for 59 years as an elementary school, at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The board's facilities and operations subcommittees discussed various possibilities Tuesday, Feb. 3 in the first in a series of discussions on the subject.

"We have a wonderful opportunity here," said David Lawson, a facilities subcommittee member. "By keeping control of and using that building, we have an insurance policy."

"We can't tell what the future will bring with enrollment," he added. "It may have to be reopened one day as an elementary school."

Lawson suggested a range of possible uses for the building, from moving the GED and adult education programs there, as well the school administrative offices now located in the Lillis Administration Building along East Street.

He also suggested moving town agencies such as Parks & Recreation and the Youth Agency, in addition to the probate court.

Board chairwoman Angie Chastain said she is in discussions with the board's attorney what the board's responsibility is about Pettibone's future, and to determine what using the building for "educational purposes" actually would mean.

"It was my understanding from discussions with the attorney that, once the Board of Education does not use the school for educational purposes, it must be turned over to the town," said Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote. "I don't know what the (legal) definition of educational use is."

Paddyfote added when schools' storage use of the Bridge Street building now used by Parks & Recreation was discontinued by the Board of Education, it was turned over to the town in two months' time.

It was decided Tuesday the cost of keeping the Pettibone building open would be determined by school district facilities director John Calhoun, who would also determine the cost of keeping the Lillis building open.

Board members David Littlefield and Wendy Faulenbach feel the financial aspect should to be known before an informed decision about the future of the buildings could be made.

Littlefield noted the Community Culinary School of Northwestern Connecticut had expressed interest in using the kitchen in the Pettibone building to expand its program.

He said having technical classes there similar to those offered at the state's Abbott Technical School in Danbury might be a good use.

Finding ways to bring in revenue through leasing space in the building would be of primary concern for Littlefield. That income could offset costs associated with capital improvements necessary at the building, he said.

Lawson suggested having the consultants Milone & MacBroom, who prepared the facilities study and ran the facilities committee meetings in 2013, come back to talk about how schools in other towns had been repurposed after they had been closed.

"I understand David Littlefield wanting to offset costs through charging for the use of spaces in the building," said Bob Coppola, an operations subcommittee member. "The fact that we're here talking about this is a good thing. I'm pleased with the discussion so far."

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