By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Selectmen are moving forward with the idea to convert the century-old Prescott School building into a downtown hotel by launching a search for developers.
The town has recently issued a request for proposals for the former Prescott School building on Main Street. Interested parties may propose to lease or buy the property from the town and submit detailed plans by the May 17 deadline. Selectmen are expected to award a contract to a winning bidder, contingent upon the authorization by court to use the property for a hospitality business.
According to Selectman Peter Cunningham, the town had an agreement with a family that donated the land nearly a century ago to use it for educational purposes only. That changed some years ago after Town Meeting agreed to petition the court to revise the agreement to include some business uses of the property. Because the expanded uses did not include hospitality businesses, selectmen will be proposing to petition the court again to further revise the original agreement when Town Meeting is held on April 11.
The idea to turn the circa-1927 building into an inn came from the Prescott School Reuse Committee. The task force that has analyzed various reuse scenario said last year that a 30-room inn could generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 million, or $52,000 in taxes for the town -- far more than the $115,000 annual income and $32,000 in tax revenue projected from a commercial complex, which has been a popular redevelopment option among many residents.
Committee Chairman Halsey Platt has said Groton could use a place to accommodate its visitors -- including those at Lawrence Academy and Groton School -- after last summer's fire destroyed Groton Inn in the downtown. Selectmen said the committee received positive feedback to its presentation of the idea at Fall Town Meeting last October.
Reached by phone Friday, all five selectmen said they did not know the appraised value of the school property.
"At the end of the day, appraisal is (only) a reference point," Selectman Peter Cunningham said, adding that market and sale prices of comparable properties will decide the value of Prescott School. All selectmen also stressed that the monetary value of the property is just one of many factors they will look at when selecting a winning bidder.
The request for proposal calls for architectural designs that are harmonious with the surroundings and plans that have positive impacts on the community.
Selectman Anna Eliot, who serves on the Prescott School Reuse Committee, said the board hopes to select a proposal that is "most advantageous" to the town.
Selectman Stuart Schulman said he has not heard any developer has approached the town yet. Selectman Joshua Degen, for one, said redeveloping the school into a retail/office condo complex would prove to be more successful, although he is willing to go along with the committee's recommendation to seek developers to turning it into an inn.
Nonetheless, selectmen remain hopeful that the idea will yield good results. Selectman Jack Petropoulos said the committee has done an exhaustive analysis of reuse scenarios. Petropoulos and Eliot said the inn option presents a lot of potentials.
Town Meeting will start Thursday at 7 p.m. at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School.