By: Ledger Staff Reporter
LUNENBURG – On October 16 via Zoom, the Lunenburg Municipal Building Design Committee held a joint meeting with the Lunenburg School Committee to discuss a phased approach to renovating buildings in Lunenburg and began discussions on the long-term disposition of Turkey Hill Elementary School.
In a meeting where emotions ran high, a consensus was informally agreed upon to address buildings on the Town side of the ledger, but substantially more discussions are needed on the third phase on what to do with T.C. Passios building and the disposition of Turkey Hill.
The building design committee is looking at a three phased approach to renovating municipal buildings. The direction it’s heading toward is the first phase would include the renovation and an additional annex at the Ritter Memorial Building, to provide Town side administrative offices, moving the school’s ACE program and administrators into the building, and hosting the schools’ superintendent’s office.
The second phase of the project would include the renovation of the existing town hall building and transforming it into a traditional New England meeting house, where the first floor would have three meeting rooms, and upstairs a larger meeting room.
The third phase is less concrete with figuring out what to do with the T.C. Passios building, whether it would be home to the food pantry, community kitchen, storage for the clerk’s office, public access studio, and some remaining Town offices, or would TCP be torn down and those services moved to Turkey Hill, which is a newer better maintained facility.
The T.C. Passios building would serve as a temporary home for displaced offices during the renovation projects regardless.
The building design committee was seeking a direction of what the school committee plans to do with Turkey Hill, whether it aims to renovate the building and continue its existing school use or build a new school building.
School committee chair Carol Archambault warned that there are major systems issues needing to be addressed at Turkey Hill, including the furnace, and any projects utilizing Massachusetts School Building Authority funds, locks the building into a school-only use for 10 years. Archambault also warned that major projects could trigger Americans with Disability Act requirements, which could result in major construction costs. Dr. Kate Burnham, Superintendent of Lunenburg Public Schools, said that an engineering study for the building will be before the capital planning committee this session.
Archambault said that the building wasn’t designed for its intended users, elementary students, as the facilities were designed for older middle school students.
“It’s not a vibrant place for young learners,” Archambault said. “I would not have wanted to teach third graders at Turkey Hill.”
School committee member Peter Beardmore warned the state of the building is subject to “budget, time, and risk”. The risk is a major system going down and responding to it, and warning that committing to other projects could put them in a difficult budgetary position.
LMBDC Chair Michael-Ray Jeffreys said he saw some overlap between Phase III and the end of Turkey Hill’s time serving a school purpose, stating TCP could hobble along until Turkey Hill is ready to assume its functions.
Building design committee member Greg Roy said that school buildings are substantially more expensive than Town side buildings, and that the two committees needed to strategize on what to do with Turkey Hill, and coming together would forge a much stronger argument to voters at town meeting.
Jeffreys painted a vision of 2038 with a renovated Ritter Memorial and Town Hall building, and there being some semblance of TCP and Turkey Hill remaining. He cautioned that in the past when the school department disposed of buildings to the Town side that millions of dollars in repairs were needed to
retrofit the building. He sought exploring the $14 million in repairs to Turkey Hill through the schools before exploring a new school building.
Beardmore felt that the money to build a new school wouldn’t be in the cards with the existing debt capacity, and there was a need to mitigate the existing risk.
Building design committee vice chair David Blatt became agitated with the school department not reaching out to his green committee’s task force for some of the repairs to Turkey Hill, as grant money has been left on the table with the facility.
In general, the two committees generally agreed on the phased approach, and pursuing the first two phases, but agreed substantial work needs to be done on the third phase of TCP and Turkey Hill. Beardmore conceptually agreed with Phase I and Phase II occurring but wanted a financial plan with the remainingphase and to consider risks. Building design committee planning board representative Matthew Allison said that Phase I and Phase II are the purview of the committee, and he agreed with it, but said any phase beyond that isn’t, as it involves an existing school building.