HARVARD -- Harvard School Committee member Keith Cheveralls compiled a comprehensive report on The Bromfield House, which he presented to the School Committee during their Nov. 13 meeting.
The purpose of the report was to provide background information to assist the School Committee in its evaluation of the building with regard to the feasibility of continuing to use the house as office space for educational purposes.
According to Cheveralls, the building condition requires significant repairs totaling at least $443,250. He said that he decided to look at the assessed value of the property because, once the cost of repairs reaches beyond that value, "you are likely to be subject to certain rules and regulations to make that building accessible."
The assessors' assessment of the building's value is $441,300, and an unofficial assessment from an anonymous realtor indicates that the building could sell for perhaps $500,000, Cheveralls said.
"Those figures set the benchmark of the figures to be mindful of in terms of the accessibility requirements," he stated.
He added that the benchmark could be 30 to 50 percent, so there is not a lot of "wiggle room" before the accessibility requirements are triggered.
If the items in need of repair listed in the 2011 Galeota Associates report were fixed, he said, "it would not make it into a perfect building, but if we were to deal with those items for immediate safety and repair, we are looking at a total of $443,000 in expenditures, a hair over the current assessed value, which would mathematically trigger the requirement to retrofit the house to make it disabled accessible."
In that case, the front porch steps would have to be rebuilt, the parking lot re-graded, interior doors and bathrooms changed, and more. Mindful of being at 100 percent of the assessed value, Cheveralls said he approached other vendors to see what upgrades it would take to meet that requirement, and the amount they came up with was $745,000
"I'm not recommending to spend $1.2 million on it, but that would be the amount if we did the repairs and triggered the ADA problem," he said. "It is a cumulative effect -- we can't do it a little at a time. I would not recommend that.
"My next step was to say what could we do rather than bring a report to the School Committee with a definitive course of action. This is not an immediate, 'the building is falling down, we have to do it.' This is a long-range plan."
The alternatives to consider, he said, are to do nothing, which he would not advise due to safety concerns, or to retain the building for the town, or to consider implementing minimal repairs.
Repairs may uncover more problems
"If we looked at what amount of the assessed value we could spend, it would be about $110,000 for immediate repairs, so we could begin some repairs. My concern with that approach is that with buildings of that age, you could likely find you are cascading one issue into another. You find more problems as you repair it. That could trigger the whole shooting match so to speak," Cheveralls continued.
Another alternative would be to sell the building, the proceeds of which would be required to be used for educational purposes.
Cheveralls said the committee would need to carefully consider the cost versus benefits of continuing its ownership and stewardship of the Bromfield House in the context of some or all of the following: If a permanent alternative space is to be sought in other available municipal buildings; if alternative space is to be considered in existing school buildings; or, if as current owners and stewards of the building, the committee may wish to seek comment from stakeholders, such as the Bromfield Trustees and the community at large.
He concluded by saying that he hoped the information he provided would inform the committee to give some guidance by Nov. 28 because "the capital planning timeline is ticking. If we are to seek alternative accommodation either on a temporary or permanent basis, the time to have that potential difficult dialogue is now."
After some discussion, School Committee Chairwoman Mary Susan Redinger asked Cheveralls if he would pursue a discussion with the town hall, library, and Board of Health.
"I could, but we have to be mindful of the elephant in the room," he replied. "These will be very difficult conversations to have."
However, he said he would initiate those conversations and see if there is an emerging consensus on which the committee could base their next move.
Alternative space considerations
"At best case scenario possible, if we do a feasibility study of HES and it means it won't cost a major amount for renovation and demolition, our decline in enrollment trend would suggest that two classrooms would become available," said Connelly.
"About 1,800 square feet is what we have now. So there is a possibility this issue could be solved for five to 10 years for much less money. That is all assuming the assessment of needs of the Bromfield House is such that it is not a potential long-range solution for us. If the feasibility study does not determine the (K) wing has to be demolished, it could be a less expensive solution."
He went on to say that if additional rooms were needed in the future, HES could use a couple of portable classrooms.
"If you buy five or more years and then the enrollment swings back, then you have to find 1,800 square feet, either as a small addition or two portables," he said.