Last Wednesday, the Vermont Community Development Program approved the town and school district’s joint grant application, aimed at funding a feasibility study for the School Street building that currently houses Twin Valley High School. The grant will provide $52,600 of the project’s estimated cost of $57,860, leaving the town to pick up only 10% of the bill.
“We’re very thankful to get this,” said Wilmington town manager Scott Murphy. “There’s stiff competition for disaster relief funding, and this took quite a long process to get to this point.”
The town still has to receive an official award letter from the state Department of Commerce and Community Development, as well as award conditions, before putting out proposal requests for the project. Murphy, who also worked on securing a grant for the fire/police co-relocation feasibility study, said this last formality should take four to six weeks. The feasibility study will give the town and school district a clear picture of what can be done with the building, whether it can be a self-sustaining structure, and whether current ideas for its use will work. The study will include overhead, maintenance, and improvement costs, while the town and school district will present possible uses to include in the study.
According to Murphy, providing those proposed uses to whomever conducts the study will provide a clearer picture for what the realistic uses of the building can be. Murphy believes the building can act as a catalyst for development, away from the village flood zone. One gray area the study should also address is how the older part of the building, approximately 100 years old, can be used, and what kind of construction, if any, it will need.
So far, only Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has expressed interest as a possible tenant in the building, and has said they would not require a large amount of space. School district chair Phil Taylor, who helped write the grant, said an SVMC annex would fit well with a plan to create a multi purpose hub that includes a community center and business incubator. With a gym, a cafeteria, multiple ball fields, and possible office space, both Murphy and Taylor said the building creates a multitude of possibilities.
“The goal is to make sure this is a viable, sustainable project, and to use this as a catalyst to increase downtown services, and create pedestrian traffic and visitation for Main Street businesses,” said Taylor. “You can see how it fits all of that, and that’s the essence of the project, to serve as many needs of the town’s needs as possible.”
Another goal of the project is to get the building out of the hands of the school district. While the use of the building will be up to the voters, Taylor said the school district cannot use the building as a source of revenue and would like to see the building become self-sustaining as soon as possible.
During Tropical Storm Irene, the building was used as a shelter, as well as a command center for emergency services. “This building is a huge footprint,” said Murphy. “It would be a huge missing tooth in the middle of our village.”
Murphy expects the study to be finished before the end of the 2013-2014 school year.