Winslow officials say they are not moving forward with a proposal to sell the old Winslow Junior High School to the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program so the building could be developed into affordable housing for older residents. Above, the building at 22 Danielson St. in March 2019. Morning Sentinel file photo

WINSLOW — Winslow officials have announced they will not move forward with a proposal to sell the old Winslow Junior High School to the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program so the building could be developed into affordable housing for older residents.

“This is democracy as we see it,” District 4 Councilor and Chairperson Ray Caron said near the end of a special Town Council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the Winslow Junior High Building Committee were unanimously supportive of the senior housing proposal at the building, which is almost 100 years old, but councilors balked at the terms of the deal.

After rejecting an initial proposal last week, citing concerns the town would be on the hook as “landlords,” councilors entertained discussion of an amended plan Tuesday from KVCAP with the Winslow Junior High School Building Committee.

After about 80 minutes of discussion, however, councilors held a series of votes that ultimately resulted in a failed attempt to amend the agreement. Councilors said they wanted more information on the school building’s condition and further assessment of the property.

“Now is not the time to make a decision on this,” At-large Councilor Jeff West said. “There are too many unknowns.”

The new agreement stipulated Winslow would have no longer had financial obligations related to the building at 22 Danielson St., a sticking point when the council voted against the proposal last week.

“The fact that the town would have no financial exposure with the renovation project is significant,” said Mike Heavener, the Winslow Junior High Building Committee chairperson and former Winslow town manager. “We have an opportunity to spend upwards of $1 million for a dirt parking lot, and instead we will have a viable space for the community.”

The agreement would have transferred ownership of the building to KVCAP, a nonprofit organization serving people in Kennebec and Somerset counties who need assistance with transportation, housing and more, for $1. In turn, KVCAP sought to develop the building into 41 affordable housing units for adults 55 or older, and renovate the gymnasium and auditorium to be leased for third-party use.

The housing part of the project would have been funded by KVCAP. In the initial agreement, the sides would have essentially split the $2 million cost of the third-party space renovations through historical grants, fund raising and other funding sources.

Under the amended proposal, the funding would have no longer been necessary.

The updated agreement would not have required the town to become a managing partner, and released the town from any responsibilities to renovate the space not used by KVCAP.

The town’s Junior High School Building Committee, which supported the updated agreement, met Monday with KVCAP officials, according to Town Manager Erica LaCroix, but the Town Council made its own decision on the proposal.

At Tuesday’s meeting, LaCroix said her “dog in the hunt” had to do with funding.

“I respect the views of the council, whichever way they may go,” LaCroix said.

Closed at the end of the 2019-20 school year, the old Winslow Junior High School is now being used by the Winslow Public Schools to adhere to coronavirus pandemic physical-distancing requirements.

The district’s sixth-graders attend school under the district’s hybrid model at the old building, built in 1928. As the district plans for a full return to classrooms this fall, even if distancing requirements stay in place, it might need the old school again for the 2021-22 academic year, according to officials.

“We do believe we can move forward with this option agreement, have it in place and also have the school district use the building for the upcoming year,” Pelton said.

Winslow Public Schools Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said many questions remain about the 2021-22 academic year. Discussions are ongoing, but district administrators told the Winslow School Board on Monday the old junior high school might be needed again this fall.

Winslow is pursuing a $3,500 initial evaluation by Augusta-based Icon Environmental Consultants about a larger study. An environmental study of the building, which is estimated at between $15,000 and $17,000, would produce cost estimates for various options, including renovating or razing the building.

District 1 Councilor Peter Drapeau said he also wanted permission from school district officials before “giving away” the property.

“I can’t understand where the thought process is to give away a property in the middle of our school campus,” Drapeau said. “Don’t lose sight of the fact, people. We own this.”

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