Boutique hotel, children’s museum among uses proposed for New Milford building
NEW MILFORD — A boutique hotel, a children’s museum, a vocational school, an artist incubator and a mix of luxury and affordable housing are some of the possible uses consultants will now consider for the Catherine Lillis Administration Building.
The building at 50 East St. now houses the school district’s central offices, but the fate of the building has been debated for years. It was built as the high school in 1931 and has served the school district ever since.
About 40 people gathered at the Senior Center Thursday for a 3.5 hour session led by Pirie Associates, the consultants hired to create a community-based adaptive reuse study using the $20,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office.
The firm will now explore the financial aspects and feasibility of a housing option, a municipal possibility and a “wild card” option.
Laura Pirie, principal at the firm, said the town charged them with looking into housing and municipal options and they will select the third use to explore from the suggestions offered Thursday based on goals residents shared at the session, at coffee houses and in the online survey.
A report will be presented to the Town Council in mid-August and used as an advisory document. Any final plans would have to be approved by residents.
“It’s our hope that in the end you’ll each find some of your input nestled in each of the solutions because your voice is important,” Pirie said.
Some ideas for the wild card option continued the educational legacy, like using the building as a vocational or charter school, turning it into a junior college, or creating a children’s museum with vocational training spaces.
Another idea was to turn the building into an inn or boutique hotel and build a conference center behind it.
Using it for arts was also a popular theme, ranging from an art studio space to a sort of indoor mall for artists to sell their work to a hybrid studio living space.
If the building remains in the town’s control, people said they would like to see town offices there and rent out the gym and rooms on the bottom floor for community space.
“It brings these people back in town and centralizes these services,” said Charles Bogie, who also sits on the zoning commission. “It also brings the people who use these services back into the (down)town.”
Most people said if the housing option is chosen, they would like to see a mix of luxury or high end apartments in the existing building and another structure with affordable units for emptynesters, young professionals and others who work in town behind it. Dakota Partners has made a similar proposal to the town.
Some said the apartments should only be in the existing building or housing wasn’t a good fit at all. Many people on Thursday also said they didn’t want a new building constructed on the front lawn because that would block the Lillis building from public view.
Resident Jeff Winter noted there are ways to incorporate the two structures like the glass pyramid built at the Louvre in France.
Pirie cautioned that not being open to options that include additional structures or a larger footprint might not bring enough interest from developers due to the cost of bringing the building in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. These types of options would also help attract the number of people needed to inject the desired energy downtown.
Increased traffic and ensuring there’s parking for Theatreworks next door were also big concerns, though some suggested adding a parking garage behind the building.
Regardless of the use, the overwhelming consensus was to preserve the historic and artistic elements of the East Street building, especially the facade and the stained glass window and murals inside.
The window, entitled “American Literature,” was designed by Len Howard as part of the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project. The property is also listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places as part of the New Milford Center Historic District.