GROTON — Thoughts of both the past and the future were on the minds of residents and former students who took part in a walk-through of the Tarbell School last weekend.
The tour came prior to a public hearing by the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee about what to do with the aging structure, once the school administration pulls out on Nov. 21.
“It should stay as a school,” said Judy Darling, a former student who stood outside the building, staring up at the its sloping roof and empty windows.
“The town should definitely do something with the building and not tear it down,” insisted another former student, Arlene Wyatt.
“They should consider making it a pre-school,” local resident Laurie Woodin offered.
The three women were among the scores of residents, local officials and former students of the historic elementary school, who came to town on a drizzly Saturday morning for a walk-through of the Tarbell School led by district Superintendent Alan Genovese.
During the tour, Genovese guided residents through crowded administrative offices, where district employees shared whatever open space remained around file cabinets and piles of storage boxes that spilled out into corridors and crowded every nook and cranny of the old building.
Amid still-existing evidence of the building’s former status as a school, such as blackboards and other fixtures, stood storage boxes, old overhead projectors, office supplies and surplus electronic equipment in a labyrinth of hallways. Visitors had to step up then down then around before backtracking and doing it all over again, in order to get from one side of the building to the other.
Exposed pipes still covered with asbestos, water stains on the ceilings, cinder block walls, peeling paint and an oil burner sharing space in the basement with maintenance supplies all spoke of the building’s inadequate space.
The crowded conditions were one reason why school officials quickly decided to abandon the Tarbell for the roomier and better maintained Prescott School building on Main Street.
The decision to leave the Tarbell building, however, left the town with a dilemma: What to do with a 95-year-old structure that was no longer needed by the School Department?
Although renovating the building for use as affordable housing or using it for municipal offices has been discussed, town officials decided to hold last weekend’s tour and public hearing in order to solicit more ideas from the public.
Those who followed officials back to the Senior Center after the walk-through were not shy about offering ideas, including making the 8,000-square-foot building an artists’ collaborative, using it for continuing education or day care, or as a satellite library, or converting it into commercial/office space.
“It’s structurally sound,” resident Al Wyatt observed. “The roof does need to be replaced as well as some of the windows. I think it’s too small for a school but it would make a great site for affordable housing.”
“I certainly think the building should be saved,” an emphatic Nancy Turkle noted. “It’s historic and is still sturdy. I think it can be converted to affordable housing, at least. But it really should be preserved because it’s part of this neighborhood.”
“It is a landmark,” agreed Selectman Anna Eliot, who joined fellow board member Fran Dillon on the walk-through.
Dillon, a former student at Tarbell, was impressed with the turnout for the tours.
“It shows that there is a lot of community interest in what happens to the school building,” Dillon said.
Last Saturday’s public hearing ended in a bull session, where residents were given details on the Tarbell School building, a summation of the reasoning behind the school district’s decision to move its offices, and assurances that the district would continue to honor its lease with the town to maintain the building until its fate has been decided.
Concerns raised by residents at the public hearing included preserving the existing playground and the architectural integrity of the school, increased traffic as a result of creating a new use for the building, and increased density in the residential neighborhood.
Following the hearing, selectmen were expected to confer with the Town Building Committee to discuss options and strategy on what to do with the Tarbell School.