WHITMAN — Faced with notification that the Mass. Interlocal Insurance Association (MIAA) is no longer interested in insuring unoccupied buildings — and a tight budget scenario for the next two years — Selectmen voted Tuesday, April 25 to “roll the dice” against authorizing a private insurance policy on the vacant Park Avenue School.
Such a policy could cost between $14,000 and $16,000 per year that is not in the budget, according to Town Administrator Frank Lynam.
The brick, wood-frame school building is vacant and boarded up on a parcel of land deeded to a trust to the town by the Clark family in 1947 “for school purposes only.”
“The difficulty for us is those last four words, said Lynam, who plans to petition the Attorney General’s office for permission to change the use of the building. He said the town’s argument would be that no one could have foreseen that the town would someday no longer need the school when the property was placed in trust to the town. The school was built in 1951.
“We would not be insured for replacement value in any event,” Lynam said. “The only insurance we would have, as we sit today, is coverage for maintenance if there was minor damage to the frame or removal if it was damaged to the point where it had to be torn down.”
Razing the building would cost between $100,000 and $150,000 he estimated, but Lynam stressed nothing could be done until the town receives a release from the Attorney General’s office. A sticking point in past plans to seek such a ruling had been hampered in the past by a transfer of a small portion of the property, to square off a neighboring property line in 1977, that could be considered a violation of the trust, Lynam said. Town Meeting had approved that transfer.
“I’m at a point where this building is simply an albatross to us right now,” he said. “We’re not spending money to maintain it, but I’m concerned about having a vacant building sitting there year after year.”
Lynam noted that, should funds be available, there are municipal needs that could be met by renovating the building, but that nothing can be done until the Attorney General’s office determines whether the town is bound by the trust. If it is, he will seek a court order to return the gift to the Clark family’s heirs. Renovation could cost the town $4 to $5 million.
“We are moving forward,” Lynam said.
Selectman Brian Bezanson agreed with Lynam’s recommendation against seeking private insurance.
“I would suggest, in light of our budgetary concerns, that maybe we should just roll the dice for the time being and hope we can push the Attorney General’s office,” he said.
Selectmen Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci, running the meeting in the absence of Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski, said it made little sense to insure the building without complete control of ownership.
“Something happens to the building, we’re on the hook to put a big fence around it until we can appropriate the money to clean it up,” Selectman Scott Lambiase agreed, noting that a private insurance policy would only provide general liability protection.
Lynam said the decision not to insure could also spur quick resolution on the building’s future.
In other business, Selectmen voted to approve the application of RPM Motorsports LLC under the ownership of Richard P. McCabe, for a Class II Auto Dealer’s License at 40R Warren Ave.
General Manager Paul Kearns explained the business, which restores high-end cars such as Corvettes for sales by appointment only. The cars would be stored indoors and only six would be on site at any one time, Kearns said.
Selectmen also approved the application of Keith A. Gutierrez DBA Ace Transporter, which had been delayed when Lynam’s office had difficulty reaching him by mail at his 146 South Ave. #19 address. Gutierrez said he had inquired with the Post Office less than a week ago about the whereabouts of a certified letter sent in March and returned to Town Hall on Monday, April 24.
“They said they had nothing for me there,” Gutierrez said. “I suppose whoever I spoke with didn’t know it got sent back already. I was waiting for some notification in the mail.” He did receive a more recent letter.
He receives customer calls on his cell phone, and a few via Google, Yelp or Facebook for his one-vehicle business.