The old Winslow Junior High School building is seen on March 12, 2019. Kennebec Valley Community Action Program has proposed repurposing the building to create senior housing and other leased space. Morning Sentinel file photo

WINSLOW — Kennebec Valley Community Action Partners won’t be converting the old junior high school building into a project involving senior housing and other uses if the town is the main lessee.

The Winslow Town Council voted down an option agreement between the town and KVCAP on Monday night, with councilors saying they don’t want the town to be “landlords” in such an arrangement, although alternatives are being evaluated between the two sides.

The council voted unanimously 6-0 at Monday’s meeting against entering the agreement on the grounds of not wanting to serve as a third party in a project which would include affordable senior housing in one part and renovations to the gymnasium and auditorium to be leased out.

The town is in the process of conducting an environmental study that will aid in the decision-making process of what to do with the nearly 100-year-old building and could still include KVCAP, which is a nonprofit organization serving people in Kennebec and Somerset counties who need assistance with transportation, housing and more.

“I don’t think any of us want to be landlords again,” At-Large Councilor Jeffrey West said during the meeting. “We need to be transparent with KVCAP that we do not want to be that third party so they have time and there’s no big surprises and can move forward for another third party.”

Winslow councilors twice chose to postpone a vote on the project before voting it down Monday. The project was to create approximately 41 affordable housing units for adults ages 55 or older and renovate the gymnasium and auditorium space for leasing to a third party. KVCAP was to pay entirely for the affordable housing renovations and help raise funds, through historical grants for approximately half of the $2 million cost for the third party renovation space. The town would contribute the other half through donations, fund raising or other means.

Another agreement could be introduced with significant wording changes.

“If another agreement came forward where the town was simply the entity conveying the property, then that would be substantially different,” Town Manager Erica LaCroix said at the meeting.

In a follow up conversation Tuesday, LaCroix emphasized that the vote does not mean the town will stop working with KVCAP. “There are still other avenues that could be (brought) forward and we’re going to continue to investigate those,” LaCroix said.

In a response to a set of questions emailed Tuesday to KVCAP, officials there responded with written comments.

“We look forward to continuing our work with Winslow in a way that best fits the town’s needs as well as the mission of KVCAP, addressing the needs of low income people and strengthening individuals, families and communities,” the KVCAP statement read, in part. “We are hopeful that a project will emerge that addresses the needs of all involved. … We still need to have additional conversations with Winslow as we determine the best course of action moving forward.”

Closed after the 2019-20 academic year, the old junior high school building is currently being used by the Winslow Public Schools for its sixth grade students to fit with coronavirus pandemic physical distancing protocols. Some of the building’s space may be needed for the 2021-22 academic year as the district looks to bring all students back five days a week whether distancing requirements change or not.

“Any type of funding that it would take … It would come through ESSR funding, not local taxes,” Winslow Public Schools Superintendent Peter Thiboutot told the council, referring to COVID relief funding.

The town and KVCAP met last month during a special council meeting for a question-and-answer session about details of the plan to renovate the old junior high school building. At that meeting, the council authorized LaCroix to set aside funds to pursue an environmental study on the building, which was built in 1928.

District 1 Councilor Peter Drapeau said during Monday’s meeting that Augusta-based Icon Environmental Consultants will spend a couple days identifying issues. A $3,500 investment will result in a quote on the cost for a survey, which is estimated to be between $15,000 and $17,000. LaCroix may spend up to $20,000 per item without council approval, so no votes were required.

“The town will probably spend around $20,000 to have, in writing, what it’s going to take to demolish it, sell it, or give it away,” Drapeau said at the meeting. “That is something that has to get done if that property changes hands or is torn down.”

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