Merrimack Valley School District to consider free gift of Beede Instruments land
After several offers since 2008 to sell his property to the Merrimack Valley School District, Beede Instruments President Walter Pelletier has offered to give the district the property for free, district officials announced at a public hearing Tuesday night.
Pelletier could not be reached for comment yesterday, but school board member Mark Hutchins of Salisbury explained the offer to residents who were gathered to debate the proposed budget and other warrant articles for the district meeting in March.
The property, including a 65,000-square-foot building, is assessed at $2.6 million, according to the city appraiser website.
The board is not planning to accept the property any time soon, in large part because there are still too many unanswered questions about whether and how much contamination is on the 8.9-acre property that abuts the high school.
By spring, however, the board will know whether it will receive federal grant money to study the condition of the land, said board Chairman Tom Godfrey of Webster.
After being denied grant funding last spring, board members told Pelletier they’d reapply, Godfrey said.
Pelletier and his company, which was bought in September by Connecticut-based Faria Corp., “have always been pretty good to the school district,” Godfrey said.
“They’ve sold us, for pretty good prices, parcels of land that are now the fields, and that’s not contaminated. So when they offered it, we felt a bit compelled to at least discuss it with them,” he said. “It’s in our best interest as well to keep in mind, if he sold, we didn’t know who would move in there. Another hazardous waste generator? He’s had it listed a couple times.
“Maybe he’ll sell it and we won’t take the land, or maybe we’ll get the grant and figure out what the contamination is. If the board wanted, we could bring it to the voters, but it would be pretty contentious.”
Pelletier first approached the district about buying the property in 2008, asking about $2 million.
The board allocated some funds from the operating budget to inspect the building and superficially examine the property. However, residents objected to the board spending money to investigate a real estate transaction without voter approval.
A motion on the floor of the following town meeting forbade the board from spending any money to investigate further.
Pelletier presented another offer, this time a lower price, and promised that a significant portion of the cost would be set aside in an account to fund cleanup on the site. The board brought the issue back to the voters and got permission to open talks.
Then, Godfrey said, the government sequester froze funds for grants from the EPA.
“We’re hopeful maybe that we’ll get approved for the grant this year,” he said. “All it would do is fully pay and fund the study of the condition of the property. That has not been really studied.”
If, and district officials stress that is a big if, the district were to accept the property, they would see it as an opportunity to consolidate operations that are now spread across several locations in Penacook: the former Summer Street School, the Washington Street School and a city-owned fire station the district uses as a maintenance facility.
This year’s district warrant asks voters whether they want to investigate selling the Washington Street School, which the Penacook Community Center is interested in buying. Voters already gave district officials approval to sell the Summer Street building.
If the district sold the Washington Street building, officials would need to find four or five classrooms’ worth of space for the programs operated there, said Superintendent Michael Martin.
“We’ve looked at trying to bring all of that programming over to the (middle/high school) site without costing people any money,” Martin said.
For now, no further plans are being made until the board hears in April or May from the state Department of Environmental Services, which administers the EPA grants.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)