SOUTHINGTON — The town could again own the former North Center School property, now a municipal center under lease.
The current building at 200 N. Main St. was constructed in 1958 and extensively renovated eight years ago by Borghesi Building and Engineering to accommodate Board of Education and Town Hall offices.
Under a plan approved in 2011, Borghesi bought the building for $1, renovated it to the town’s specifications and leased it back to Southington. The town has an option to buy the building for $2.9 million in 2020 or continue leasing it for the next 10 years at a total of $3.6 million.
The question could go to referendum this fall.
References to a North Center School house show up in writings from the mid-1800s and the early 1900s.
Starting in the late 1980s, the school board considered redistricting plans that included closing North Center School. Some of those plans, such as one proposed in 1988, would have moved town and education offices to Central Elementary School, now Derynoski School, and closed North Center School.
Restructuring elementary schools was also intended to reduce class size disparity among the town’s schools. Former school superintendent Louis Saloom said in 1988 that the 200 students at North Center would go to Hatton and Thalberg schools.
Portions of that plan returned in 1997 when the school board voted to reduce town elementary schools from nine to eight. Closing North Center School passed in a 5-4 vote that year despite strong parent opposition.
“That was the most traumatic thing I ever did on the Board of Education,” said Joyce Kogut, former board chairwoman. “It was horrible. I couldn’t leave the house.”
Closing the school was an emotional decision for parents, but she still believes it was the right move.
“I always felt it had outgrown its usefulness as a school because of its location,” she said. “The kids used to play right up against that fence, along Route 10.”
After the vote, the board supported putting up more fencing between the playground and North Main Street (Route 10).
Kogut always felt it would be a good location for municipal offices.
“It only made sense. You have this building right down the street” from Town Hall, she said.
Louis Perillo III, a former board member, voted against closing the school in 1997. He supports smaller, neighborhood schools and doubted savings projections provided by school officials at the time.
“I like the neighborhood school system,” said Perillo, now the town’s economic development director. “I like the neighborhood feel, I like the smaller schools from a learning environment standpoint.”
He was glad other elementary schools were renovated as part of a subsequent redistricting plan in the early 2000’s, saying the updates were badly needed.
Students left North Center for other schools in 2004. The building was used to house Plantsville students when that school was under renovation as well as other school district programs.
“Once it was an empty building, the town did say, ‘Hey, what a great building,’” Kogut said.