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Housing, senior center, museum among possible uses for old Prescott School

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GROTON — On the cusp of completing their prime mandate from the Board of Selectmen, members of the Prescott Reuse Committee expect to tender their findings in the form of a report within the next few weeks.

“It is the view of the committee,” states the draft report, “that its role is…to provide (to residents as represented by the Board of Selectmen) the best available data, information, and our insights to the decision makers relative to reuse and disposition alternatives…” of the former Prescott Elementary School.

“The town has a pivotal opportunity to decide the future use of this building and how that use will shape the town center,” state’s the report’s executive summary. “This exercise in ‘place-making.’ The building has so much square footage in such a prime location that its use has the ability to substantially improve the center of town. The critical question is which use the town considers the most important.”

Among the potential uses for the building summed up in the report are a new senior center, art center, museum, historical annex, continued educational component, and affordable housing.

The Prescott building “could be the tipping point that creates a critical mass of business use that makes Groton center more economically vibrant and provides long term tax revenue,” concludes the summary.

The 75-year-old Prescott building has been under scrutiny by town officials ever since the Groton-Dunstable Regional 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 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.

With a determination to see the property redeveloped 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 business district, selectmen established the Prescott Reuse Committee.

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

The result was the draft report submitted to committee members for review at their meeting held Dec. 28.

“The report…is the summary of our investigation and lays out the current status of the building, the town departments we have met with, the groups that have come forward looking for space, and an outline of the next steps,” concludes the report’s summary.

Among the findings of the Reuse Committee was that the Prescott building was structurally sound albeit with some work needed in order to be brought up to code. As a result, cost estimates will be required to find out how much it would take to replace such items as an aging underground fuel storage tank and retrofitting for commercial and residential uses.

Other factors remaining to be determined are future use of the building by the school department, market demand for commercial and residential space, and the cost to the town if the building were given over to nonprofit private or civic groups.

For those reasons, the Reuse Committee has proceeded to apply for funding from the CPC (Community Preservation Committee) in the amount of $20,000 needed to pay for a conceptual design of the Prescott building itself combining residential, commercial, educational, and community elements.

Although the committee plans to submit a final version of the report to the Board of Selectmen early in the new year, its mission will go on.

“The committee shall continue its work in exploring and refining reuse options, researching potential funding sources, developing a reuse time line, compiling data, preparing a detailed application for CPC funding, and preparing a detailed scope of work and RFP for Technical Services,” concluded the report.

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