Cheshire envisions former school as town hub

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CHESHIRE — The former Cheshire Elementary School could be the new hub for running the town, serving local senior citizens and protecting its residents.

The Select Board is seeking proposals from architectural firms on converting the remaining unused space at the Church Street complex into more spacious, accessible municipal offices. In addition, the former school could house a new, larger community/senior center.

The board also is eyeing the site for a separate public safety building for the local police and fire departments, which currently are cramped in aging buildings near the already crowded Town Hall just off Route 8.

"We want to establish a mini-master plan for the property," said Town Administrator Ed St. John IV.

St. John said the request for proposals outlining the scope of the study/design work is being finalized, but he expects a firm to be hired and begin its work well before the end of this year.

Cheshire and Adams residents voted in 2017 to close the school as part of a consolidation plan for the two-town Hoosac Valley Regional School District. The elementary classes through third grade were combined at Hoosac Valley Elementary School in Adams (formerly C.T. Plunkett Elementary School). The fourth and fifth grades were moved to Hoosac Valley Middle and High School in Cheshire.

Currently, two tenants are renting about half of the 61,600-square-foot building originally circa 1923. Two wings were added in 1995 and 1961.

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A multipurpose municipal complex seems to have plenty of community support, according to Select Board Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi.

"People have been very vocal about this. The school seems to fit the need of all our town services," she said. "The school also allows us to expand our community center."

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The community/senior center is located on School Street, not far from the school.

The school district central offices have a four-year lease costing $10,000, annually.

Last September, the Youth Center relocated from its multistory, smaller building in Adams to the newer section of the school. The 46-year-old nonprofit serving Cheshire, Adams and Savoy has a 10-year lease to rent eight classrooms at $1,500 per month.

Several attempts to find additional tenants have failed, prompting the town to look at using the remaining half of the complex for municipal use.

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"The biggest issue was the town retaining the property," St. John said. "No one was banging down our door to use our school."

St. John said the community/senior center likely would encompass the school cafeteria, where Cheshire holds special and annual town meetings.

What space is left should handle all the town departments at the aging Town Hall — a former residence that isn't handicapped-accessible.

Francesconi says the school site has the flexibility to consolidate several municipal functions and have room for a new, separate Police/Fire Department facility fronting the property.

"The site already has certain amenities for us to utilize," she said. "We can harness its assets to our advantage."

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.


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