New Milford mayor proposes new use for Pettibone School

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — The Town Council questioned a proposal to sell the town’s building at 50 East St. and relocate school administrators to the former John Pettibone School, along with some town departments, on Monday.

Mayor David Gronbach proposes selling the East Street building so that it can return to the town’s tax rolls. Under the plan, the school’s central offices would relocate to the newest wing of John Pettibone School, which was transferred to the town last year after the school was closed. Social Services, the Youth Agency and Parks and Recreation are also expected to move to the former school. Other nonprofits, or like-minded agencies, such as United Way, could lease office space there as well.

Gronbach said he hopes Pettibone becomes a community center where residents and organizations can rent classrooms, the stage, cafeteria, gym and library.

Before the sale can proceed, the Board of Education would have to turn the East Street building over to the town. Residents would then have to approve the sale at a special town meeting.

Some council members questioned the amount of work needed to get Pettibone ready for the departments and how the town would pay for it.

Councilman Peter Bass read a list of improvements the Board of Education prepared for the school a few years ago, which totaled a little more than $2 million.

Gronbach said he didn’t think the school needed a lot of work, and most of the improvements on the list were to meet the schools’ stricter security requirements. He said the proceeds from the East Street building sale should cover the immediate needs. He added the rental and leasing fees could help the town maintain the building and make any future improvements.

Councilman Tom Esposito said some money from the sale of the East Street building should go to the schools because the council made a commitment to the town to use the proceeds if and when Pettibone was sold to help the schools complete some capital projects.

The plan is still in the early stages, although an executive session was scheduled for Monday’s meeting to discuss a listing price for the East Street building, and a possible action item was on the agenda for the mayor to enter a listing agreement with Sclazo Realty. The vote was tabled until more information is available.

Several council members said it was premature to discuss a price without having at least one appraisal done on the site. The council authorized $5,000 for an appraisal, which is expected to be presented at an upcoming meeting. Gronbach will also come back with a budget for the move and site restoration.

Some residents questioned the transparency of the plan.

Wendy Faulenbach, a Board of Education member, said the plan wasn’t discussed with the school board before coming before the council.

“This is not collaborative, and I don’t feel appreciated,” she said. “I look at this agenda item as a preliminary eviction notice.”

Gronbach said he plans to present the plan at the next school board meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Joshua Smith said on Tuesday that he was intrigued by the plan, but it was too early to comment on the specifics. He said he and the other administrators are responsible for managing the school system’s operations and providing a quality education for the district’s students, and they would continue to do so in whichever building the community wishes.

He said he expects the Town Council will work with the school board, and said central office will move wherever the school board sees fit.; 203-731-3345; @kkoerting