Litchfield News

Plan for Bantam property still meeting resistance (12-06-18)

A view of the former Bantam School, which would be transferred to the Litchfield Housing Trust under a proposal voters will consider in a referendum Dec. 19. Peter Tavino photo
The proposal for the former Litchfield County courthouse that Litchfield voters will consider in a Dec. 19 referendum has lately overshadowed the other item on the referendum ballot: The proposed transfer of the former Bantam School to the Litchfield Housing Trust.
Under a plan supported by the Board of Selectmen, the housing trust would create an affordable housing community on the Bantam property. The building would be turned into 14 rental apartments and 10 single-family homes would be built on the grounds.
Housing would be defined as “workforce,” meaning it would be reserved for individuals and families who work and contribute to the community while meeting the state’s income requirements for affordable housing.
Bantam’s post office would stay in the building and the building’s gym would remain available to the Parks and Recreation Department under the terms of a lease with the housing trust.
Opponents of the proposal, however, continue to express concern about it. A handful of them spoke during a Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, repeating the thoughts they’ve brought up before the board several times over the past year.
Kim MacDonald, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposal, told the board the municipally-owned property is too valuable to give up and should be maintained for municipal use, or given to the Borough of Bantam.
MacDonald also expressed concern about the gym lease, noting that it requires the town to absorb the costs of cleaning and maintaining the gym, utilities, and insurance. The town would also be responsible for maintaining the parking area outside the gym under the lease, which provides free use of the gym.
As part of the proposed deal, the town would cover the cost of cleaning up underground contamination on the property, a cost estimated to be $75,000. The housing trust, meanwhile, would be responsible for removing lead paint and asbestos from the building at an estimated cost of $203,354.
Citing the state’s budget problems, MacDonald said it’s possible that the housing trust won’t get the $4 million or so it needs to create affordable housing. Betsy Glassman, another resident opposed to the proposed transfer, cited the lack of progress on the housing trust’s plan to build affordable housing on a plot of land along Torrington Road as evidence she said proves that state money might not be available for that project. The same could be true for a Bantam School project, Glassman said.
Selectmen are anxious to unload the former school because it is considered a drag on the town’s finances. The annual cost of maintaining the building is an estimated $175,000, public works Director Raz Aleze said this week.
Rent the post office pays the town offsets some of the cost. The town used to get $200,000 a year from the state when the building housed Bantam Superior Court, but the court’s moving out 15 months ago created a fiscal hole for the town.
Rent from the post office and the state built up in a fund the town used to maintain the building, when it was fully operational, at an annual cost of more than $200,000 a year. The fund, however, is dwindling and soon will no longer be able to cover all costs, according to Alexe and First Selectman Leo Paul Jr.
Once that happens, taxpayers would be tapped to pick up the slack.
“The best option for the Bantam School is this,” Selectman Paul Parsons said of the proposed transfer. “It meets the needs of everyone, and I support it.”