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Council votes to sell Bartlett School

December 23, 2009
BERLIN — The city council voted to pass a resolution authorizing the sale of the Bartlett School building for $100,000 to the Binette family at their meeting on Dec. 21.

Steve, Dennis, Raymond, and Muriel Binette, owners of Ray's Electric, formed a new company, White Mountain Suites, for the proposal they first presented to the council Dec. 7. Steve Binette was present at the meeting to review the Binettes' plan to turn the building into student housing. Mr. Binette spoke about the new market the proposed 50-60 college students and their visiting families would bring in, hoping they would foster area business and job creation.

Passionate residents turned out to support both sides of the debate.

Sylvia Poulin offered her support as both a local business owner and former employee of the college, saying that in her 17.5 years at the college, they were always looking for dormitories for students.

"If we have the students close to the proximity downtown, they'll be buying their pizza, they'll be going to the theater, they'll be going to the bookstore," Mrs. Poulin added. "As a downtown business owner, as a downtown building owner, I think it's a great idea."

Complaints about the project centered around the concern that an additional school building could be needed in the future with the expected influx of families into the area when the new prison is opened.

"I'm not opposed to the project, I'm just opposed to the timing," said Mayor-elect Paul Grenier. "I think we need to wait to see what kind of impact the Bureau of Prison population brings to the city of Berlin before we do anything."

If the school were to get 70-80 new students in the Brown School, Mr. Grenier said, the Bureau of Education would have to bring in classroom trailers or 3rd graders would have to be redistributed to the middle school. Mr. Grenier urged the council to wait one or two years before selling the building, saying $100,000 dollars is nothing compared to the $200 to $250 million it would cost to build a new school.

Tim Sappington, an architect newly attached to the White Mountains Suites project, disagreed with Mr. Grenier's financial reasoning. He said the costs to bring the building up to code as a school would be great, around $10 to $11 million, versus the $1 million it would cost to bring it up to code as a dormitory. Selling the building, he added, gets it back on the tax roll.

Councilor Poulin was the most vocal supporter of the resolution, showing frustration at the objections made by other councilors this far along in the process.

"It's seems like, the way it is written, it's what we wanted," Councilor Poulin said.

Councilors McCue and Remillard were the only two opposed to the resolution, with one council member, Councilor Goudreau, absent from the meeting. Though neither councilor voiced concerns about the sale in general, they did feel they needed more information before making the decision, and perhaps an amendment with more specific conditions.

"There were questions raised about certain controls because of concerns about the property not staying in the same hands," said Councilor McCue.

However, the resolution passed, with only the original stipulation that "the project proposed by the Binette family must be carried out and substantially completed within 2.5 years of the closing date or the property will revert to the City."

Mayor David Bertrand closed the meeting with his thoughts on the sale, dismissing the argument that the population of school-age children would blossom out of control and proposing a redistribution of junior high students to the high school if necessary.

Also discussed at the meeting, the council voted unanimously to pass resolutions appropriating $8 million of Bureau of Prison funds to the Sewer Fund, and authorizing the city manager to execute a deed for Wastewater Treatment Land to Clean Power Development that officially transferred the land to Clean Power Development.

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