GROTON -- To proceed or not to proceed.
That was the question for members of the Prescott Reuse Committee when they met on Nov. 6 to decide whether to go ahead and issue a new RFP (Request For Proposal) immediately. Or, should they wait for definite news from the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District about keeping its administrative offices in the building beyond the summer of 2014.
The 75-year-old Prescott building has been under scrutiny by town officials since the school district ended its use as an active elementary school and moved its administrative offices there from the now disused Tarbell Elementary School building in West Groton.
Recognizing that Prescott would be underutilized by the district and that its lease on the building was due to expire in 2015, selectmen included the historic school building in a townwide study aimed at the creation of affordable housing.
With a determination to see the property redeveloped in such a way that it might contribute to the town's stock of affordable housing or redeveloped as commercial property, selectmen established the Prescott Reuse Committee.
Selectmen charged the committee in 2009 with listing possible uses for the Prescott building, prioritizing them, and then coming up with costs and funding sources applicable to each.
A study was completed in which use of the building as a bed-and-breakfast was deemed feasible and an RFP was issued seeking investors interested in pursuing that possibility.
The effort fell through, however, when it became known that a developer intended to rebuild the Groton Inn across the street.
Back to square one
Committee Chairman Halsey Platt met with the School Committee to inquire about its plans for Prescott; would they be leaving or did they intend to remain as tenants when the district's lease expired in 2015?
But on the verge of beginning their search for a new superintendent, school officials said that they were not prepared to make that decision for at least another few months.
Halsey reported the district's reply to the Reuse Committee on the night of Nov. 6 and raised the question of whether they should proceed with an "open-ended" RFP immediately or wait until the School Committee is ready with an answer of its own.
An open-ended RFP would have allowed developers to bid on the property for whatever purpose they wished.
Former School Committee member Berta Erickson spoke in favor of delaying a new RFP due to a strong feeling among townsfolk to preserve Prescott for community use.
Reminding members that a condition of the original donation of land upon which Prescott was built was that it be used solely for educational purposes, Erickson noted that the Council on Aging and a local children's art group might be interested in using the building.
"There are myriad things that it can be used for," concluded Erickson. "Use of the building for retail or commercial purposes is premature."
Erickson was joined in her opinion by Planning Board representative on the committee, Russell Burke, who also urged delay.
"We're only going to have one chance to do something with the Prescott School," said Burke, adding that time should be allowed for a new superintendent to offer his opinion on the issue.
But Board of Selectmen representative Anna Eliot differed, saying that the committee had been working on the problem for years and should not base its decisions on the whim of the school district.
"Let's go ahead with the RFP," said Eliot. "Why go backwards after making so many efforts to go forward?"
Eliot reminded fellow committee members that over the years, the group had covered all aspects of commercial and community uses to which the building could be put. With the evidence of recently opened businesses at the new Boynton Meadows subdivision across the street and plans for a new Groton Inn, the potential for commercial development in the downtown area is encouraging.
Eliot said the committee's decision on what to do should not be made at the behest of the school district.
But opinions were against Eliot with the committee deciding to delay a new RFP until after word from the school district and news that the Groton Inn project was a definite go.
With the decision, Platt said he would prepare letters notifying both the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen of the Reuse Committee's decision to delay issuing a new RFP until at least the spring.