The Durham Board of Selectmen are exploring whether to conduct a feasibility study in the process of acquiring the former Francis E. Korn Elementary School.
The study will determine what building codes and issues have to be addressed when its use changes from a school to a municipal gathering place. This will include a cost estimate.
“We need to do that to get to referendum,” said First Selectman Laura Francis.
At Monday’s board meeting, Francis said she wants a referendum on the ballot next November asking voters if they approve funding to own, renovate and operate Korn as a community center.
“One thing I heard loud and clear is that the town should not seek to own another building without the townspeople’s agreement to renovate and operate the building,” she said, “and a clear understanding of the cost.”
The plan to turn Korn into a community center was revealed in June. Durham would swap with RSD13 a six-acre parcel of land on Tuttle Road near Brewster Elementary School for the Korn building and its surrounding six acres of land.
The school district has been paying down the debt service on the outstanding bond associated with Korn renovations.
Since both Durham and Middlefield share RSD13, Durham would assume Middlefield’s remaining debt, paying Middlefield about $27,000 per year for five years.
“The reasoning behind that was that (Durham) would be getting a better asset because of those renovations,” Francis said. “That clearly is a sticking point.”
On Monday, Francis announced that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the town and RSD13, with added contingency language, has been submitted to the Board of Education for approval.
The added contingency language says the transfer won’t happen until all approvals take place, including from Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Planning and Zoning and Zoning Board of Appeals. Also, a town meeting and annual referendum must take place, and financial authorizations made.
“What that paragraph intends to do is make clear to the (school) district there will be no transfer of property until those conditions are met,” Francis said, providing Durham with some protection.
If the school district approves the MOU, the town will sign the MOU at its Nov. 27 meeting and then can go out to bid for a feasibility study.
The town will present the bids to the Board of Finance, the group that will decide how to fund the study.