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Prescott committee offers list of how to utilize school

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GROTON — It is said every journey begins with a single step, and those first steps were taken by the Prescott Reuse Committee Tuesday night when members worked to identify how the former Prescott Elementary School building could be used by the town.

“I think it’s going great,” said committee Chairman Halsey Platt at the conclusion of the group’s third meeting. “But we’re only right at the beginning.”

The committee was charged by the Board of Selectmen last year to list possible uses for the Prescott building, prioritize them, and then come up with costs and funding sources applicable to each.

The Prescott building has been under scrutiny by town officials ever since the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District ended its use as an elementary school and moved its administrative offices there from the former Tarbell Elementary School in West Groton.

Recognizing that Prescott would be underutilized by the school 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.

That report found that the Prescott building would be the best site for such housing. However, in the meantime, the town’s efforts at redeveloping the Station Avenue neighborhood had stalled, and in an attempt to sweeten the pot for prospective developers, selectmen sought to include Prescott in any deal to redevelop Station Avenue.

At the same time, a possible roadblock to any change in use of the Prescott building was overcome when the state determined it would not be a violation of the town’s original agreement with the donors of the school land that the property be used only for education purposes.

With that determination and a desire to redevelop the property in such a way that it could not only help increase the town’s stock of affordable housing but also contribute to enlivening the downtown district, selectmen established the Prescott Reuse Committee.

According to Platt, since holding its first meeting, members of the committee have been keeping track of testing to be done on the school’s underground fuel storage tanks, as well as its accessibility and emergency exits.

The committee also conducted a site walk of the building to familiarize members with the property.

Quickly listing a number of possible future uses for Prescott Tuesday night, the committee included its continued use as offices for the school district, affordable housing, and mixed use commercial/municipal office space.

“I’d like to generate as much opportunity in town as possible for people to buy locally,” said committee member Anna Eliot of the mixed-use option, which could include shops on the building’s ground floor and offices above.

A fourth suggestion included its use as a community or teen center with renovation work that could be performed as a community project. The suggestion of turning the building into a community center seemed to dovetail with a lack of movement to use Country club land for construction of a center, as had been suggested by others.

A further attraction of the community-center alternative was that work redeveloping the building could very well be done for a great deal less cost than transforming it into any kind of housing.

“From my point of view, I love the idea of it being put to a community use,” said committee member Berta Erickson.

One concern about redeveloping the building in any way was traffic generation, something committee members were urged not to forget, as they moved ahead in examining each of the suggestions in more detail.

With a deadline for completing its work from 12 to 18 months, there will be plenty of time for the committee to consider aspects involved with each of the suggestions made Tuesday night.

Something members are expected to discuss more in depth at the committee’s next meeting on June 15.

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