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Concerns raised in Groton over Prescott renovation

By Chris Lisinski

GROTON — The Board of Selectmen offered a number of suggestions Monday night for the formation of a committee to oversee renovations to the Prescott School, two weeks after the board accepted a report formally recommending a combination of school, community and business uses at the building.

The current Municipal Building Committee for Prescott School submitted its final report to the selectmen on April 20, and on Monday night, members of that group presented a draft charge to what will be a new committee that will oversee the actual renovations.

Selectmen suggested a number of amendments to that draft that will change how that committee operates, perhaps the most significant among them a requirement that a formal business plan be submitted for the school.

But there was still some disagreement about the building’s future. Selectman Anna Eliot, who served on the Municipal Building Committee for Prescott School, expressed concerns about the roughly $5 million price tag — which will be paid using Community Preservation Act funds — that the renovations will require.

“This falls within what we should be scrutinizing in our own town and municipal budget,” she said. “To me, the prioritizing should be for the senior center.”

The plan is to allow for “mixed use” at the Prescott School: Groton-Dunstable Regional School District will retain its administrative offices in the building, and the structure will be renovated to develop space for a community center as well as space for businesses.

Eliot said she does not support allocating a portion of the Prescott School for a community center and would instead like to see that portion also go for business. She also recommended the town’s Finance Committee and its new sustainability committee analyze the numbers in the report suggesting such use.

The selectmen will continue these discussions at next week’s meeting.

The board also voted to continue an informal policy of waiving the local $25 passport fee for town employees. Town Manager Mark Haddad told the board he had been doing so for years — for all town employees except himself — but that recent complaints prompted him to bring it up and seek the selectmen’s opinion. Haddad said the total value of that was no more than $500 over five years, so he argued there was no significant budgetary impact.

Eliot along with Selectmen Stuart Schulman and Peter Cunningham voted to continue the policy.

“I don’t think it’s a significant amount of money,” Cunningham, who did not take advantage of the practice, said. “There are a lot of jobs with perks like that. I don’t think it’s significant enough to get really cranked up over.”

Selectman Jack Petropoulos was the lone vote against, and Selectman Josh Degen abstained because he had benefited from Haddad waiving the fee.

Audience member Bruce Easom disagreed with the vote and told the board they should charge a flat fee across the board.

“You have created a benefit for yourselves at the exclusion of others and, perhaps unintentionally, kept it quiet,” he said during the meeting. “I think that you should pay the cost for the passport just like anybody else in the town of Groton. If you waive it for yourself, that’s great, as long as you waive it for everybody else. I think there’s an issue of basic fairness here.”

Monday was also Schulman’s final meeting as a selectman. At the start, the board read a proclamation praising him for his service — and after the meeting, the board went out to dinner to celebrate (though as five individuals who work together, not as a formal board).

Follow Chris Lisinski on Twitter and Tout @ChrisLisinski.

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