Open houses, workshops allow public input on future of Bridge Street School

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Suffield - posted Wed., Apr. 10, 2013
Bridge Street School's future has been under scrutiny since it closed its doors in 2004. The town will be hosting tours of the site, as well as a workshop to gather residents’ opinions. Photo by Jennifer Coe.
Bridge Street School's future has been under scrutiny since it closed its doors in 2004. The town will be hosting tours of the site, as well as a workshop to gather residents’ opinions. Photo by Jennifer Coe.

In September of 2012, the residents of Suffield voted to tell town leaders not to sell the Bridge Street School building and property to out-of-town developers. In fact, the vote - one of the largest in recent history - put the plans for Bridge Street School completely on hold.

There are many reasons why residents said the property should not be sold, repurposed or redeveloped. It’s a historical building, say some, while others think it can be renovated to serve the town in another role. The location is prime for downtown access, say others, and some who have raised their families in town hate to see any Suffield heritage lost.

“It depends on who you talk to,” said Town Planner Bill Hawkins.

Since the September vote, Suffield leaders have heard the residents’ concerns about not being included in the decision-making process, and are attempting to move forward toward a more inclusive discussion about what to do.

The town is now working with a consulting firm to reach out to the community and gather information on what residents want to see happen with the property. According to Hawkins, the representative from Planimetrics, Glenn Chalder, AICP, has already begun meeting with community members.

“Glen has been meeting with key stakeholders in town, some members of the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, the people from Brandywine, and the senior housing across the street to try to understand their point of view,” said Hawkins. “He has been doing his background research.”

Three residents - Janet Banks, Ray Pioggia and John G. Smith - have been a part of many committees and studies about the property since the school closed its doors in 2004. Pioggia recalled multiple discussions about the building through the past nine years. “As we went along, it was decided that the building was viable for repurposing,” he said. “Then it sort of got linked to a couple things that were going on in town. Do we use Bridge Street School as a library? Should we tear it down?”

Many are concerned that the longer it takes to make a final decision on the property, the more wear and tear the building will face in the meantime. “Last year the heating system gave out,” Pioggia said. “It’s almost like a kiss of death to a building like that.”

A website that Pioggia, Banks and Smith have been maintaining, www.bridgestreetschool.org, has launched a petition, which has 127 names on it with some thought-provoking comments.

“I am very much against selling this valuable and historic property. I believe it should be used and preserved for the citizens of our town,” wrote J. Sullivan.

“I recommend you look at renovating the building for Town offices, and relocate any town office from a building where the Town is presently paying rent,” wrote D. Vindigni.

“The school is just the kind of structure other communities are saving, restoring and using for community centers, town offices, or arts centers. I hope we can do the same - we've torn down too much of the old center of town already,” wrote N. Noble.

Only one person advised the town that it should “raze” the structure.

In April, there will be three open houses on the Bridge Street property to which the public is invited. Tours of the facility will be held Tuesday, April 23, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, April 25, from 7 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, April 27, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“There is a huge need for a community center, and that would be an ideal place for it,” said Pioggia, who added that he supports the use of this consultant and feels the results of the three open houses will be beneficial.

Finally, on May 14, a hands-on workshop will be offered. “This will be an important step,” said Hawkins, who stressed that it is vital that residents come out and speak their minds. “This is the day to make yourselves available. If you care,” he said, “come and speak.”

For more information on the open houses, go to www.suffieldspeaks.org.


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