The question about what to do with the Humiston School building at 30 Spring St. continues to occupy the interest of School Modernization Committee members.
And it now appears that the group is content to wait longer before coming to a final decision on what the future may hold for Cheshire’s oldest school building.
At the meeting of the SMC held on Feb. 10, Committee member Jim Jinks posed the question to the group — not just what should be done with Humiston, but what is allowable?
“The largest question in my mind is, what exactly can we do with Humiston down the line?” he asked. “I don’t think we can necessarily shed the building, at least in the ways I’ve been thinking that we can, because of its designation on the Historical Buildings list and because there is a deed restriction stating that it needs to be used for educational purposes.”
Because of this discovery, Jinks found that the Town may be eligible to receive assistance from the state if officials decide to move forward with a renovation of the building. Humiston School was built in 1912, and is currently used as the District’s alternative high school and it houses all District administration offices.
“The building is part of the state register of historic places. … I came across a grant program for buildings for rehabbing or updating or improving buildings that are on the list,” he said.
The grant program Jinks mentioned would refund anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 and could help the SMC address the multitude of issues the building faces. Perhaps most important is the $5 million estimate for updating the building to meet ADA compliance standards.
“I remember someone said it would be about $5 million to just get Humiston ADA compliant, which is nowhere near what we would get in this grant,” said SMC member Don Walsh. “I believe the Town is checking to see if we could sell the property, can we demolish it, what exactly can we do. That’s ultimately going to be up to the Town Council in the long run.”
Member Sylvia Nichols added that at the last attempt at modernizing Cheshire’s school buildings, the group ran into the same issue with Humiston, although she believes there may be some negotiation on Humiston’s deed requirements.
“During the last go-around of this, I remember we did have our legal team look into Humiston,” she said. “I believe they found that the deed did restrict it to educational purposes, but they felt that it would require a court case … but we might be able to change that deed restriction since it’s been for such a long time.”
SMC Chair Jen Bates then suggested that the group rethink including a Humiston renovation as part of the Phase 1 plan that the committee hopes to present to the Town Council in order to consider it at referendum in November.
“I am uncomfortable with having it be a part of Phase 1,” said SMC member Rich Gusenburg. “I think our costs are already fairly high with the programs that we have on the table at the moment. I do think the building is very well situated … but I’m not certain what we ought to do with the building.”
All the SMC members agreed with Gusenburg, stating that they feel it might be too much of a risk to include Humiston as part of Phase 1, and they have a lot to deal with already.
“The risk is having Humiston totally derail everything we want to get done in Phase 1,” added member Jeff Pangaro.
The committee then unanimously agreed to remove Humiston renovations from any further Phase 1 planning.
One week later, the Committee determined that, due to an error in calculating general enrollment for the schools in the District, the group would have to reevaluate their proposals and extend their deadline to submit recommendations to the Town Council.