News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 26, 2018
Island Community Center mulls lease, lawyer’s memo

by Rich Hewitt

Island Community Center officials said Monday its board will review a memo from the town’s attorney before they sign a lease extension for the ICC building.

“We have the letter from the lawyer and we’ll present it to the board at our next meeting, before we sign the lease,” board president Lydia MacDonald said at a meeting with selectmen.

Selectmen already have signed the document as instructed by voters at town meeting in March when they approved an article requested by the ICC board. That article told selectmen to extend the lease until June 30, 2019. That’s a one-year extension beyond the six-month lease extension the two parties agreed to in November.

Looming over the discussion of the lease, however, is the estimated $650,000 cost for needed upgrades to the building outlined in a building assessment conducted last year for the town. In light of those estimates, the selectmen asked their attorney to summarize the responsibilities of each party under the terms of the lease. It is that memo from Peter J. Van Hemel that the ICC board will review before they sign the lease. Van Hemel says basically that the town as the lessor, is responsible for the outside structure of the building, while the ICC as the tenant is responsible for maintaining the interior.

“Section 13 of the lease generally apportions to the landlord the structural or exterior elements of the building, the heating system, and the basic utility hookups from the public mains to the panels or meters,” he wrote.

“The tenant is responsible…for maintenance of all interior elements” other than those listed as the town’s responsibility. Van Hemel noted that the lease also requires the ICC to maintain those “elements” in the standard they were in when the lease was initially signed.

Although he added that the building assessment report did not distinguish whose responsibility each recommended repairs were, selectmen have indicated in the past that, while the town will have to tackle some of the larger projects such as a new roof, much of the work—and the associated cost—is on the interior of the building and so, would be the ICC’s responsibility.

MacDonald had sounded an optimistic note at the start of Monday’s meeting, noting that the ICC board has begun work to plan a future for the community center.

“We’re finding we’re opening a lot of doors for the future of the community center and we’ve created new committees to research possible avenues to see where the future is going,” she said.

She stressed that communications in the past had not always been good, and said she hoped that could be improved.

“I hope we can work together to do what is best for the building, the community center and the town,” she said. “We need to have a much more open conversation as possible.”

She did raise a concern relating to a section of the lease that allows the town to inspect the premises and to make repairs on the utility systems. The lease, MacDonald said, requires the town to provide reasonable notice when they want to inspect the building. That’s been a problem in the past, she said.

“We’ve had contractors basically breaking into the building and had the heat shut off,” she said. “Just let us know when you have someone come into the building so Jeannie can be there to let them in.”

The selectmen had their own concerns. Evelyn Duncan said she would like to see the ICC develop a business plan outlining the types of programming they intend to pursue in the future and what modifications to the building would be needed in order to accommodate those programs.

“I’d like for the board to have some kind of business plan that looks to the future to say down the line here are our needs and the space we need and determine whether this building could be realistically adapted,” Duncan said. “It’s an older building you’ll be modifying and it will never be exactly right.”

Duncan also estimated that it will cost between $23,000 and $43,000 a year in payments for the next 25 years to renovate the building depending on the level of repairs they choose to make.

“You need to ask ‘is this the ideal building for that amount of time?’”

Donna Brewer raised a more immediate concern—the broken asbestos floor tiles in the building. The tiles have been a longstanding problem, she said, and it’s one that should be corrected and could be.

“If you can encapsulate them, it’s a cheap fix,” she said. “I think you could do that just to make it safe.”

Town Manager Kathleen Billings drove the point home.

“The floor is chipped and we have serious concerns that need to be addressed,” she said. “This is getting steadily worse and it’s worrisome.”

The town is also dealing with an asbestos tile issue in the town’s other former school building. Duncan pointed out that a contractor will be working on that issue in May and it might be possible for him to check out the ICC floor while he is in town.

The ICC has set aside $13,000 to address the floor issue, according to Jeannie Hatch, ICC director.