Town officials cranked up the heat at Chalk Hill School 15 degrees higher than a building consultant's recommendation this past winter with disastrous results.
"We had it at 60 and the pipe burst," Public Works Dir. Douglas Arndt said of a pipe that froze in the cafeteria. "We had to have it at 65."
Indeed, even doing minimal maintenance to a building can have its pitfalls.
The school was turned over to the town a year ago but, due to a shortfall in revenue, First Selectman Steve Vavrek had recommended closing the building temporarily during the last budget cycle. Board of Finance and Town Council members want a solid revenue-generating plan to be in place before committing to keeping it open.
But Arndt pointed out that "hibernating" the building with minimal maintenance still costs money.
"We can only stretch a dollar so much before it breaks," he said. "If we don't maintain it in hibernation mode, it will have to be taken down."
The public works director shared his thoughts during the Capital Infrastructure Facility Asset Planning Subcommittee (CIFAP) meeting Tuesday night. The Planning & Zoning Commission's subcommittee is overseeing the planning process for the future of Chalk Hill.
"The building will thrive when it's being used to its full potential," Arndt said.
The first selectman will try to have a plan in time for the June 12 CIFAP meeting, to be held at 6:30 p.m. at Monroe Town Hall.
CIFAP Chairman Richard Zini, who is also chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission, said there is a need to accomplish three things:
- Outline the current and past uses of the building
- Establish a business plan with projected uses
- Have a list of possible operating costs and needed upgrades
Then the P&Z would look at the proposed uses in the building, which has a special exception permit for a school in a residential zone. Zini said the commission will be flexible with the town property.
The commission will also schedule a public hearing for input from residents on how they want to see the building used.
Vavrek has been working with Arndt, Finance Dir. Carl Tomchik and Frank Bent on the building's needs and cost estimates. Bent had been serving as interim Parks & Recreation director. Now newly hired director, Frank Cooper, will take an active role in the process.
"Mr. Cooper has a good past of getting a building like this one up and running," Vavrek said. "But we have to have some issues and true costs once and for all. It has to be done the right way. We can't just put businesses in there. It has to be approved by Planning & Zoning. Whether it takes six months or a year, we're gonna do it right."
With unpredictable factors such as fuel costs, Arndt said he doesn't see himself getting more accurate numbers than he has already gotten.
It had been estimated to cost in excess of $150,000 just to mothball Chalk Hill.
Zini said he sees some sort of mixed use for Chalk Hill, though he stressed that does not include commercial nor retail uses.
Chalk Hill Present & Future
The Monroe Early Learning Center, a private daycare, currently leases space in Chalk Hill and shares the building with the Monroe Parks & Recreation Department offices. Parks & Recreation hosts revenue-generating programs in the facility.
The Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service holds training sessions at Chalk Hill and the organization hopes to move into the building one day. It now shares the Jockey Hollow Firehouse with town firefighters.
The town would run a deficit of over $200,000 to keep the building open and a number of residents have made proposals to bridge the gap. Options presented to the Board of Finance in March included an art school, yoga classes, a teen night, an expansion of the Monroe Early Learning Center, and the possibility of the Board of Education housing its alternative school there.
On Tuesday night Vavrek said, "There have been a number of potential suiters."