Town wrestles with Pettibone's future
June is coming fast and the lifespan of John Pettibone School as a New Milford elementary school is drawing to an end.
Very much alive, however, is the discussion in town of just what to do with the nearly 60-year-old building and the property it sits on.
It is a decision that must be reached despite numerous potential complications.
The nearly 60-year-old building will close June 30 as a school.
That could include anything from adult education to storing New Milford school district property.
Members of the education board are divided whether to keep the building under their jurisdiction or releasing it to the town for whatever purpose the Town Council might decide.
At least one party is interested in purchasing the Pickett District Road property.
Toll Brothers, developers of high-end housing, contacted Mayor Pat Murphy and the school administration stating an interest in buying the property.
"Personally, I don't think a residential use is a good use of that property," Murphy said Monday. "There's always a problem with pedestrians crossing Route 7 in that stretch."
Sale of the property would be the Town Council's responsibility if the property were to be turned over to the town.
A committee would be formed, input sought from the community and budgetary constraints and other factors would be carefully considered, the mayor said.
In May 2014, councilman Joe Failla recommended having the town take control of the property, razing the building and selling the 16.4 acre parcel.
He received some support from other council members. Failla suggested putting money from the sale in an account for Board of Education use.
"It was a thought I arrived at on my own," Failla said Monday. "Modernizing the building would probably be cost prohibitive."
Sale of the property by the town might not be as easy as it first would appear.
The parcel was sold to the town in November 1952 for $16,000 by George D. Pratt Jr.
The warranty deed on record in New Milford's town hall states the property must be used by the town "for town purposes."
It further states if the town were to decide to sell the parcel, Pratt or his heirs and successors have the "first option to re-purchase."
Town attorney Randy DiBella said such provisions in a deed or other legal document have a time span of the grantor's life, plus 25 years.
George D. Platt Jr died in the 1980s.
The mayor noted the right of first refusal by Pratt and his heirs is mute as it would apply only as long as the parcel had not been developed.
Peter Pratt, a nephew of George D. Pratt Jr., said his uncle had been "a very strong proponent of education" and while the wording in the warranty deed indicates "for town purposes," his uncle likely was thinking about a use for educational purposes.
"The whole family was involved in education," said Peter Pratt, who sits on the board of the Pratt Nature Center, which features an educational component.
"My great-grandfather, Elliot Pratt, founded the Pratt Center. My uncle served on the state Board of Education," Peter Pratt said. "I believe he would have wanted this property to continue on used for education."
The estimated capital expenses for keeping the Pettibone building in use would be just more than $2 million, including replacement of two boilers, replacing the roof, replacing a third of the windows, the fire alarm system and the underground oil tank with an above ground unit.
If taken on, the work would be required during the next 12 years.