NORTH STONINGTON – Three times in the past year, Selectmen’s board members have gone out to bid on tenant or buyer applications to fill the vacant space at the North Stonington Education Center. Three times these efforts have failed.
Prime Selectman Michael Urgo and selectmen Bob Carlson and Nita Kincaid are grappling with the best way to fill the space at 298 Norwich-Westerly Road, which has remained largely vacant during the year since the town acquired the property last summer, after the failure of the last effort. to return even one auction. Urgo said the board will now have to determine the best course of action, which will likely require an alternative to simply listing or renting the property.
“No offer has been made, and at this point it will have to be put back on the agenda,” said Urgo. “I think there are still things we could do. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but we’ll have to look at our options as a board and come to a consensus on what to do. you have to do next. “
Urgo and Carlson each said this week that after the third bidding effort fails to attract a potential tenant or buyer, it will be time to consider options beyond real estate listings to attract a partner. and fill the space.
At the very least, Carlson said the city will need to consider a stopgap to avoid the burden of seasonal maintenance, heating and other costs that have been on taxpayers for a year now.
At a special town hall meeting this spring, residents approved a paper ballot measure to allocate $ 96,752 for expenses related to the maintenance and repair of the education center. The credit was only to cover until June 30. With winter quickly approaching, he said the city will need to act urgently to avoid absorbing another season of expensive heating and maintenance costs.
The city currently has funds available in its building maintenance account, he said, but those funds will not last all winter.
“We don’t want to be scoffed at like we were last year,” said Carlson, chairman of the city’s education center subcommittee. “Although we have funds available at the moment, they will only pay the bills for a while. We will have to find a solution.”
Carlson, who is the only candidate to run for election as first manager in November as Urgo prepares to retire, said that at the very least figuring out the next course of action would likely become top priority for the first incoming manager and new advice if no solution is found in the coming weeks.
The lack of bidders is just the latest challenge in a year-long effort to fill the gap. The city first made an offer on the property last August, which prompted voters to approve the lease for the one-story wing of the former Wheeler Middle High School at the Lighthouse Voc-Ed Center. Inc. in September. However, that abruptly ended in December, when negotiations broke down with Lighthouse representatives.
The town returned to make an offer earlier this year and has again sparked interest, this time from a party who contacted Urgo after learning that the eventual Lighthouse deal had failed. The effort culminated in a month-long negotiation before the unidentified bidder refused to pursue a deal.
With little recourse, council bid one last time on July 21, opening up options for those interested to either apply for a lease or purchase part or all of the building. Urgo confirmed on Tuesday that no offer was submitted in the last attempt.
Carlson said that among the challenges the city faces, including trying to market an aging large building at the end of a pandemic, is the need to find a solution that makes sense to taxpayers now and in the long term. . -term. Under a condition of ownership, which is transferred to the city by the Wheeler Library, the building is also to be specifically used “for educational purposes only”.
“The point is, there just aren’t a lot of people out there looking for an older, empty space,” Carlson said. “There is a small market for a space like this and we will have to come together as a board of directors and decide how best to move forward.”
Urgo has said he intends to take the matter back to the board next Tuesday.
“This discussion will go a long way in determining where we are going from here,” he said.