PEPPERELL -- Six months after students moved out, the Peter Fitzpatrick School could have a new use this summer.
The Peter Fitzpatrick Feasibility Committee completed its final report on what to do with the currently vacant building on Main Street. The committee was appointed to the task back in July 2018 by the Board of Selectmen. According to the report finished on April 24, the committee concluded that demolishing or selling the 81,000-square-foot building was "not cost effective" and would provide "no lasting value to the town."
Instead, the committee recommended that the building could be turned into a space for community programs that would generate its own revenue to support its own operations and maintenance. The committee recommended that the official use of the property be determined by the town no later than July 1 this year.
The building has been empty since October, when the North Middlesex Regional School District moved administrative offices. The PACH Outreach food pantry, the Gateway program and a preschool left the building around the same time.
Built in 1888, the Peter Fitzpatrick School was the town's first new high school building It was then demolished in 1938 to build a new high school for the town and was exclusive to Pepperell until the town rejoined the North Middlesex Regional School District in the 1960s. The building was expanded in 1966 and 1994 to accommodate elementary and middle school-agedchildren at the renamed Peter Fitzpatrick Elementary School.
The Fitzpatrick building was closed in June 2009 due to declining enrollment and the establishment of both Nissitissit Middle School and Varnum Brook Elementary School.
The Feasibility Committee's final report laid out a series of specific recommendations for the town to capitalize on the building's proper use. The committee recommended that the town could re-purpose the building as a "mixed-use center" under current zoning bylaws to have it back in-use and stop spending money on keeping-up a vacant property.
Town Administrator Andrew MacLean was also advised to find a non-profit organization to enter into a partnership with, allowing the organization to run the building on behalf of the town for a minimum initial term of 10 years.
The town could also create a zoning overlay of the property within the next one to three years for restricted light mixed commercial uses, like a farmer's market or an art studio or a coffee shop. The town would have to monitor whatever commercial business takes over the building to ensure any revenue generated goes right back into managing the property itself, or it could look into grant opportunities from the Historical Commission.
In an email on Tuesday, MacLean said the committee submitted its final report to the Board of Selectmen on April 29 and have asked them to endorse them during its next meeting on May 22. While he said he was not "following up" on the recommendations, he did say that the town's selection of a nonprofit overseeing the property would be a "publicly bid process."
"There are a number of likely candidates for this," MacLean said. "Think Boys & Girls Clubs, community theater groups, recreation programs, etc. We are looking forward to the opportunity to reinvigorate that campus to the benefit of Pepperell."