Dixfield selectmen gauge interest in former school

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DIXFIELD — Selectmen and the public offered pros and cons of the town taking over the former elementary school at 33 Nash St., but no decision has been made.

The Regional School Unit 56 building most recently housed the central office and the Wellness Center. It’s vacant and the district has offered it to the town.

Selectmen and Town Manager Carlo Puiia toured the facility Nov. 20 with school Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Director Kenny Robbins.

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Board Chairwoman Norine Clarke said at last week’s board meeting that the roof needs minor repairs and the heating system is adequate with one boiler. She said the building is wired for computer use and is handicapped accessible.

“It just seems to me like the building is too good to just let it go fallow,” Clarke said. “It’s perfectly set up for office space. Any business that wanted to could go in there tomorrow.”

She said bathrooms for adults would need to be added and the gymnasium could be used by the town for a variety of events.

“But it’s a public perception whether or not this is a good thing for us to take on,” Clark said.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see how good a shape it was in,” Selectman Gene Skibitsky said.

He said Robbins told them there were only two issues with the building. One is there are some floors that have asbestos, but they would not be an issue as long as they are kept intact and carpeted over. The other issue is that a $7,000 compressor with the fresh air exchange in the new part of the building might need to be replaced.

“I know that the Wellness Center got used quite a bit,” Skibitsky said. “It’s a shame to see it sitting idle. There’s possibilities there. The problem I have is that I don’t get a good sense of the town on whether they think us taking over the building is a good idea or not.”

He said he trusts Robbins, but he would like to see a commercial inspection done. However, the the town doesn’t have money budgeted for it, he said.

“If we’re going to move on that building, I would think we’d want a study like that in our back pocket,” Skibitsky said. “So if we have a public hearing, we can let people know exactly what shape that building is in.”

Selectman Aaron Jamison said, “It’s a very usable building, for the most part. It’s got some possibilities, but we need to find out what the town thinks.”

Absent from the meeting were Selectmen Hart Daley and Norman Mitchell.

Puiia said if the town does not take the building, the responsibility would remain with RSU 56 to insure it.

One resident noted that four towns are paying to maintain the building. She asked why Dixfield would want to pick up the entire cost when there aren’t businesses knocking on the doors to come here and the town already has other vacant buildings.

Resident Richard Pickett pointed out that Mexico has an old school building that’s being used as a recreation center that is making money by renting out rooms.

Clarke asked what the deadline is to decide about the building.

“The school is looking to find out sooner (rather) than later, so they can transition or do something,” Puiia said. “The building has been winterized and has been closed down.”

He said, “This board has to decide whether they will take this to a vote of the people to accept the building back. It’s not about deciding about demolishing it, or whether it becomes a rec center or it becomes a rental unit. It’s really about whether the town wants to own it or not.”

In other business at the Nov. 27 meeting, Police Chief Jeff Howe said he’s working with Randy Glover of the highway department to see if the two departments can make better use of the building they share.

Howe said his goal “is to have the room we need to offer better security and safety and some privacy for people who come to us. We’re looking at what are some of the different options, and can we utilize the space better down at the town garage.”

He added, “We’re looking at different possibilities so that we can get by, so we can stay in there for awhile because realistically, moving out of there is an expense.”

bfarrin@sunmediagroup.net

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