BOE returns Nathan Hale building to town
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Tue., Feb. 26, 2013
One year ago, the Board of Education decided to suspend elementary school operations at Nathan Hale School on Spruce Street, due to an outdated boiler and heating system which would have been costly to repair. With the school closed, but with the BOE still footing the bill for the structure's upkeep, the board discussed giving the building to the town at its regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 25. “The issue currently before the Board of Education is who will continue to maintain the building?” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Richard Kisiel.
During public comments, resident Scott Aiken expressed his disapproval. “I'm disappointed because I feel like this board is punting yet another problem to the town,” he said. Aiken was strongly opposed to the closing of Nathan Hale, and firmly believes that the east side neighborhood needs a school. Aiken said that with schools in town over 95 percent capacity, the board should repair Nathan Hale instead of pursuing a proposal to move fifth-graders into Bennet Academy.
Maintenance of Nathan Hale was not included in the BOE's budget, however, since the closure, the board has paid for heat, electricity, snow plowing and custodial work at the building. “It costs approximately $154,000 a year to keep that building open,” said Kisiel. “The board simply does not have that money in its budget. The school district is currently not using the building; it is being used by the town.” The cafeteria and gymnasium are used for recreation purposes.
When discussing the possibility of the board continuing to operate Nathan Hale but billing the town for required services, Kisiel said that the town's general manager, Scott Shanley, said the Board of Directors would not accept that action. “We're left with the issue of, 'Who pays?'” said Kisiel.
Kisiel also noted that while Nathan Hale is being considered for the location of a possible magnet school in town, the most immediate concern facing the board is that the cost of maintaining the building isn't budgeted.
“There's no doubt in my mind that we should be giving it back to the town,” said board member Michael Crockett. “If the town is using it, they should be paying the rent for it, just like we do when we use their facilities... But if Mr. Shanley thinks that the Board of Directors doesn't want to pay us the rent, then by all means, I'm going to support we close it up.”
Board member Jason Scappaticci said that even if the board gives the building back to the town, they could still be able to use it in the future. Highland Park School, he said, was once closed and later reopened, and the Cheney building adjacent to Bennet Academy also is being considered for reopening.
“This board is in the business of operating schools, and the Nathan Hale building is no longer a school. I don't think it makes sense to continue to maintain it,” said board member Sarah Walton. “I don't think it's passing the buck to the town. Taxpayers are going to continue to pay to maintain the building whether it comes through the Board of Ed.'s budget or through the town's budget.”
Based on her investigations into the viability of reopening the Cheney building, Walton said she knows that closing a school and reopening it is a greater cost to the community than funding regular upkeep, and she said she regrets that the same is happening for Nathan Hale. “This board requested over $900,000 for what was needed to keep Nathan Hale's doors open, and was denied,” Walton said. “If we continue to not invest in our school buildings, we will have to close them down.”
If not turned over to the town, the board's other alternative would be to shut the building down to a “minimal level of support,” as Board Chair Christopher Pattacini said. This would include the most minimal amount of heat – and almost no custodial service – required to maintain the integrity of the building. The town would no longer be able to use the building for recreational purposes.
“I think it does make sense to turn it back over to the town,” said Pattacini.
The board voted unanimously to turn the building over to the town, effective March 1.