New Milford school officials question reuse of Pettibone School
NEW MILFORD - As Mayor David Gronbach further develops his plan to relocate some town departments to the former John Pettibone School, some school officials are wondering if it’s the right move for them.
Gronbach’s plan includes turning the former school into a community space, offering public meeting places, as well as offices for parks and recreation, social services, the youth agency, nonprofits and the school district’s central offices. He unveiled a drawing at Monday’s Town Council meeting showing where everyone would go at Pettibone, including a wing for school officials.
But at the Board of Education’s meeting on Tuesday, most members said they are trying to decide between moving to Pettibone or keeping and renovating the East Street building, where central offices are now, to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Part of Gronbach’s plan is to sell the East Street building and add it to the tax rolls.
“I do believe in JPS as a community center, but I don’t want to be pushed into it if our administrators are more comfortable where they are,” said Bill Dahl, the school board’s vice chairman.
On Monday, Gronbach said the town organizations and departments included in the plan want to move to Pettibone and have asked to go because their current building is too small or there are inadequacies, including problems with the heat at Parks and Recreation’s offices. The move would also allow Parks and Recreation to have its programs in one space.
“To me, it’s a great opportunity for synergy with our departments,” Gronbach said.
He described the Board of Education area of the building as “its separate sphere,” because it would be a the wing that was added on to the school and can be blocked off from the rest of the building.
Gronbach said he is still working out the cost, and has several ideas how to pay for it.
He said the school’s boiler was repaired recently, but other work, including the roof, needs to be done.
“From what I’ve seen so far, we haven’t gotten into something that needs a general contractor,” Gronbach said.
School board members remain skeptical that Gronbach’s estimate of $100,000 to $200,000 is enough to cover all of the needed work.
“I like the idea of JPS as a community center as a concept, but a lot of work needs to be done,” said board member Tammy McInerney. “It’s going to take more than a coat of paint and cleaning the rugs.”
She mentioned that student cubbies would have to be removed, walls added, and the children’s bathrooms would have to be upgraded so adults could use them. Other members expressed concern about mold and unseen problems once work starts and walls are demolished.
Superintendent Joshua Smith and other school officials will review the blueprint for Pettibone and survey the proposed space to determine what their electrical, technological and building needs are. They will then present the plan of what they would need and desire the space to look like to board members and the mayor.
While Gronbach said the school board would not be responsible for the move, some members questioned who pays for the future maintenance costs and building upkeep.
“I’m also concerned about the capital projects, because moving in is one thing, but staying there is another,” said board member Wendy Faulenbach.
Members referred to previous studies on the building that highlighted systems that were more than 50 years old and would have to be replaced soon.
Board member J.T. Schemm said ultimately the taxpayers will pay for it, whether it comes from the Board of Education or town portion of the budget. He said they need to think of the whole community as they make their decision about the building.