Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Local News

Pierson Engineering Report Outlines Options, Areas of Concern

An engineering study conducted on the former Pierson School and forwarded to the Town Council lists the property’s strengths and weaknesses and outlines its suitability for a variety of uses. The Town Council is now considering the next steps on the building, which has been empty since the end of the 2019 school year.

Last October, the Town Council approved an appropriation of $12,000 to be used for an engineering study that the town hopes will aid in finding a new use for the Pierson School.

Town Manager Karl Kilduff explained to the Harbor News that understanding what changes—if any—could be made to the floor plan of the building will help the town make decisions about a future use.

“In short, can other floor plans work in the space or can the school only accommodate the existing walls [that] delineated classrooms? It would be important for the council to understand the extent to which the building could have alternate uses,” Kilduff said last fall.

The study was conducted in fall 2021 by the engineering firm DTC. A report was forwarded to the Town Council members in February.

“The study delineates what can/cannot be done based on the capacity of the building to support certain uses. It also provides some estimates for the cost to rehab the building to serve another purpose. The information helps inform the decision-making process,” Kilduff said this month.

“The report will help inform the council and future discussions. Finalized costs for rehabilitation will depend on how the building is actually used. The report does not include an analysis of operating expenses that could be incurred if the town was the operator of the building for a given use. Those numbers would have to be compiled to give a complete picture,” said Kilduff.

According to the report, the school is overall in good condition, but there were some concerns. The reported noted that in one of the classrooms there was a crack in the wall likely from a stress fracture, but that “Based on overall conditions in this vicinity, we believe the condition is arrested and can be aesthetically repaired in-place.”

Additionally, the report noted that there was evidence of water infiltration in the basement and in the library. The report states “these conditions pose long-term concerns to the integrity of masonry materials.” The report said that the affected bricks would need to be replaced.

The school is in a historic district and according to the report, “historic preservation specifies that historic brick be replaced with a comparable brick,” which can be expensive.

As for future uses where remodeling of the building was needed, the report considered three possibilities: library, a library and senior or community center, and residential.

“The town gave those potential uses as they mirror some of the community discussions around the future of the building. Those types of uses are similar to how the building might be used whether to town retains ownership, leases it, or sells the site. So, there are a good point of reference for consideration,” said Kilduff.

Library

The report estimated that a library would be about 28,000 square feet and occupy not more than two levels.

“The main level is approximately 13,000 square feet so the library program would fit on the lower level and main floor, leaving the upper level open to other uses,” the report stated.

Alternatively, the report said that a mezzanine in the gym could be built to support heavy bookshelves and would allow 20,000 square feet for alternative uses.

Library and Community Center

The second option considered in the report said that combining a library with a senior center or community center would allow for more of the building to be used.

“Library book stacks require a floor capacity of 100 to 150 pounds per square feet, and, as mentioned, would be best suited for the lower floor of the building,” the report said.

However, due to the height of the floors on the lower level the report said that it’s possible that a remodeling to allow for an open floor plan would reduce the potential space for a community center.

“Maintaining the existing basketball court would involve conversion of offices to lockers and bathroom facilities,” the report added.

Residential

The report said that converting the building into a residential use was “structurally feasible,” especially on the upper floors.

“The geometry of the school lends itself to this use with the large size classrooms and high ceilings. The large windows provide sufficient openings for natural light for occupants,” the report said.

Some of the space for hallways could event be added to the residential space since the hallways are “excessively wide” the report added.

Unfortunately, the report once again pointed put that since the building is on the historic registry, the cost of converting the building to rental properties was likely to be expensive.

The History

Finding a new use for the Pierson School has been a long process that has captured the attention of many Clinton residents. The Pierson School has been emptied for now close to three years but for more than 80 years previously it had been a part of the Clinton education community. In 2018 the Board of Education voted to close the school at the end of the 2019 school year. A facility needs study conducted by the school system found that closing the school was the prudent move in the face of declining enrollment and rising operational costs.

The biggest issue with finding a new use for the property has to do with the deed of the building. When the Morgan Fund Trustees sold the property to the town in 1953, a deed on the property from the sale stated that the premises must always be used for the education interests of the residents.

Since 2019, the town has been seeking a legal remedy, one that would lift the deed restriction. In March of 2022 the town council unanimously agreed to a resolution that would pay the Morgan Trust $75,670 to help remove the deed restriction.

“The process we are working through involves making a payment to the trust in consideration of their original contribution to remove the deed restriction that was placed on the property by the trust. The trust and the town have agreed that $75,670 is a fair payment to the trust to remove the deed restriction,” Kilduff said earlier in 2022.

The Connecticut Attorney General’s Office needs to approve the payment, but Kilduff said that since both the town and the trust are in agreement of the exchange, it’s hoped the state won’t object.

The deed restrictions were discovered after the decision to close the school was made and the responsibility for caretaking of the school was transferred from the Board of Education to the town. In 2019, the town estimated the cy pres action to remove the restriction wouldn’t take longer than 18 months. More than 33 months later, the action is still going on.

While some residents have voiced frustrations and accused the town of a lack of progress on the site, town leaders have pushed back on those claims. Town Council Chair Chris Aniskovich has pointed out more than once in the past that the council has discussed Pierson several times over the last two years, but due to the legal situation concerning the property those talks had to be done in executive session. Aniskovich has also made clear that Kilduff has spent significant time working toward a resolution on the property.


Eric O’Connell covers news for Clinton for Zip06. Email Eric at e.oconnell@shorepublishing.com.

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