DURHAM — The former Korn Elementary School is set to be demolished as the Board of Selectmen turned down the offer from Regional School District 13 to take ownership of the building.
The RSD 13 Board of Education had previously offered the Korn School building to Durham at no cost and set March 31 as the official deadline for the Selectmen to make a final decision.
First Selectman Laura Francis planned to request from the Board of Finance an appropriation of funds to bring the building up to code but during the recent council meeting, she acknowledged that the town can't take over ownership and maintenance of the Korn School at a reasonable cost.
“I think it would be irresponsible for us to take it because, with the privilege of owning a building of that size, we cannot ignore that the costs are going to be significant,” said Francis. “It is an older building, it needs to be updated.”
Based on the estimates from 2014 and 2018, the operating costs would be in the range of $2.5 to $3.5 million but due to inflation and the current increase in costs for construction, that number could easily reach $3 to $4 million, noted Francis and Selectman George Eames.
“The cost issue is not getting any better in the private sector,” said Eames. “As an example, the cost of sheet metal from December to today has gone up 109 percent. Your field cost, your transportation, everything is going through the roof. If you are looking at the building costs right now, this is probably the worst time you could get a quote on something.”
After Korn School closed in 2018, Durham residents overwhelmingly rejected bonding $7 million to acquire the building and convert it into a community center.
The Board of Selectmen then had discussed revisiting that idea with voters, but with the renovations completed over a number of years.
In this plan, the town would have brought the building up to code so that the town could use it as a community center as well as a storage space.
Although Francis said at a previous meeting that voters should decide on this issue, she realized that the initial costs would be much higher than the Selectmen had anticipated.
Francis said she was especially concerned with the idea that the town would use its building reserve fund.
“No fiscal advisor will tell you to buy a house and drain your savings to do it,” said Francis. “We have other buildings and other responsibilities. I am not sure this community is ready or willing to take the fiscal responsibility of owning that building.”
The board voted unanimously to reject the offer.
As of now, it is unclear when the building will be razed.