Closed New Milford school's future still unknown

NEW MILFORD — It will just be a formality Wednesday when the former Pettibone School transfers into town authority.

The town already owned the 16-acre property and held the lease and title for the 74,800-square-foot building. However, until the Board of Education formally turned the building over to the town, it remained in charge of the school as long as it was used for educational purposes.

Tammy Reardon, assistant to Mayor Pat Murphy, said the Board of Education will relinquish on Wednesday “statutory rights to the building and property.”

Jay Hubelbank, business manager for New Milford Schools, said a walk through will be scheduled with the mayor, he said.

Appraised at $11.4 million, the property sits in a prime business location at the corner of Danbury and Pickett District roads. The future of the property remains a concern among many residents.

Murphy, who was not available for comment Monday, said in April that any sale of the property would be in the Town Council’s purview once the property was turned over to the town. Before that would happen, Murphy said, a committee would likely be formed, input sought from the community and budgetary constraints and other factors would be considered.

Pettibone was closed as a school at the end of June. The parcel was sold to the town as 26 acres in 1952 for $16,000 by George D. Pratt Jr. The building was constructed in 1955. Just over 10 acres of the original property was purchased by Kimberly Clark in 2004 for $1.89 million. The money went toward building the present high school.

Kimberly Clark had planned to expand, but instead the company has since let the town use the 10 acres for playing fields. Bob Brand, K-C spokesman, said Monday he would not “speculate” if the company would be interested in the other 16 acres if the land went up for sale.

“I’ve talked with our mill manager in New Milford and understand the school is closed but the town has not yet decided what it will do with the property,” Brand said. “At this point, we won’t speculate about any possible interest in the property until there is clarity on the town’s part about its future.”

In May, the Board of Education voted 6-2 in favor of transferring control of the property to the town. Capital upkeep on the 60-year-old structure is estimated at more than $2 million within the next two to 12 years, with a new roof, two new boilers, window replacement and oil tank replacement as well as a fire alarm update needed. It was estimated that less than $680,000 could be saved annually by closing the school, with a one-time closing cost of $210,700.

While some board members wanted to hold onto the building in case student enrollment increases in the near future, the board majority felt the money could be better put toward education than facility upkeep.

Actual transition costs totaled more than $189,000 as of the first of this school year, according to Hubelbank.

The school building originally housed third through eighth grade. By 2014-15, the school served about 360 students in kindergarten through third grade, as one of three elementary schools in the town.

Projections of sharp student population decline over a 10-year span led to the decision to close Pettibone and reconfigure grades. Projections in 2010 showed pre-k through third grade classes affected the most. A total enrollment of 617 students in those grades was projected by 2020-21.

As of Aug. 25, the actual enrollment of pre-k through second-grade students at the two remaining elementary schools was 875, 33 more than anticipated. However, the overall district student population was 4,238 students, still within the anticipated shortfall, according to Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote.; 203-731-3352