By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- With Prescott School no longer being considered a potential fire station site, the task force exploring ways to redevelop the historic school building has a new idea: Converting it into an inn.
A 30-room inn could generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 million, or $52,000 in taxes, for the town, according to the Prescott School Reuse Committee. That's a lot more than the $115,000 annual income and $32,000 tax revenue for the town projected from a commercial complex -- an option for Prescott School that has been popular among many residents.
Committee Chairman Halsey Platt said the committee members believe an inn is an attractive option -- so much so that they are now ready to ask selectmen if the board would look for a developer to make it a reality.
"It has a lot of potential," Selectman Anna Eliot, who serves on the Prescott School Reuse Committee, said of the inn option. The key is, she said, to find "the most qualified developer who shares our vision and can do it in a way that would attract the clientele."
Prescott School Reuse Committee plans to soon present its idea to turn the century-old Prescott School into an inn. Following last summer's fire that destroyed Groton Inn in the downtown, Groton is left without a place to accommodate its visitors overnight, Platt said. With nearby Gibbet Hill Grill hosting more than 110 weddings annually and Lawrence Academy and Groton School constantly
This will be the Prescott School Reuse Committee's first official recommendation to the Board of Selectmen after researching potential redevelopment over the past 1 1/2 year. The committee has conducted a community survey, which showed a strong interest in retail and community use of the facility. The committee also hired an architect to analyze potential development costs and tax revenues for each scenario.
The idea to convert a part of the school into a new fire station was eliminated in April when Town Meeting approved the town's acquisition of a Pleasant Street property from Lawrence Homestead as a fire station site. That allowed the committee to make a final decision on redevelopment ideas, Eliot said. The committee recently took a straw vote and unanimously selected the inn option.
Under the scenario presented by the architect the committee hired, the 27,400-square-foot building would have 30 guest rooms with a restaurant. The inn could charge about $130 per room a night, generating $353,000 in annual net operational income at a 65 percent occupancy rate.
Under a commercial use scenario, 15 office suites would be leased for $900 per month, resulting in $7,000 annual operating income that would be wiped off after debt payments on the construction cost.
Given that Thomas More College of Liberal Arts of Merrimack, N.H., is expected to create its new campus on Old Ayer Road in Groton, the town will have even more need for an inn, said committee member Berta Erickson.
Platt believes an inn with a restaurant would provide more amenities downtown -- something residents have wanted -- while generating solid tax revenues. The committee expects the redevelopment would not cost any taxpayers' money, Platt said.
Selectman Stuart Schulman said he hopes the board will issue a request for proposals "to see if there is any taker" for an inn development.
"I don't like it," Selectman Joshua Degen said of the inn option.
Degen said retails expected at Boynton Meadows, a mixed-use complex under construction at 134 Main St., and those at Prescott would create some synergy to attract shoppers, which would have some "spill off" effects on other downtown businesses. Degen stressed, however, that he is willing to listen to the committee's presentation.
Eliot said it's important that an inn created at Prescott have "a charm" and "unique quality" that attracts guests.