An accelerated payment of a grant attached to the Peter Fitzpatrick School property has been put on hold as the school administration and the Massachusetts School Building Authority discuss the current use of the property. Selectman Joseph Sergi made an announcement at Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting that through the recent discussions of rezoning the property, the MSBA was made aware that the school property had changed functions; it remains uncertain whether this will affect the grant.
The amount in question is $209,230, according to Superintendent Joan Landers.
"The School Building Authority contacted the district requesting information regarding the past, current, and future use of the Peter Fitzpatrick School facility. The letter notified the district that, while the Peter Fitzpatrick School project was initially eligible to receive an accelerated fiscal 2013 payment, the MSBA placed the accelerated fiscal 2013 payment on hold pending additional information about the status and use of the Peter Fitzpatrick School facility," said Landers in an email.
Although the building is still being used for district purposes, it is no longer operating as an elementary school.
"They (the MSBA) were not aware that the school was in reuse mode, so right now John (Moak) is working closely with Superintendent Landers to navigate this and address the concerns of the (MSBA)," said Sergi, "and hopefully we'll have an outcome that is in the best interest of the Commonwealth as well as the residents of Pepperell."
The annual payment of the grant, which is connected to a 1994 school project, is usually made in March. Landers is still working with the MSBA to provide the necessary information.
"Mass General Law and MSBA regulations address the issue of school closure and set forth a number of requirements that a district must meet in connection with any school closures," said Landers.
The issue in question is "under the jurisdiction" of the School Committee, said Sergi.
"The superintendent did not notify MSPA back a few years ago when the original action taken," said Sergi.
Dr. Maureen Marshall, who was superintendent at the time, said that in her time with the school district, building use patterns throughout the district, not just at Peter Fitzpatrick, changed as a result of budget constraints in order "to drive more financial resources to the teachers and the classroom experience."
"We work closely with the MSBA and have for all the years I was there," she said. "If there was some notification that we neglected to give to the MSBA, the MSBA never brought it to my specific attention."
MSBA press secretary Dan Collins said he could not comment on whether the situation could have or should have been handled differently.
"Basically we wouldn't really be able to speculate on hypotheticals," said Collins. "The project is where it is now. We're collaborating with the district now and we look forward to continue collaborating with the district on this project."
On the list of a myriad of purposes that the school premises is currently being used for, said Landers, the building houses the superintendent's and assistant superintendent's office, the district's business, human resources, technology and building and grounds offices for the district.
"The work study program also utilizes classroom space to address the needs of individual students from North Middlesex Regional High School," said Landers.
The Merrimack Special Education Collaborative also contracts eight classrooms, two offices, the cafeteria, kitchen and the gymnasium with the school district for collaborative programs, said Landers.
"There are additional unoccupied classrooms that are also being used by MSEC to address the needs of the program," said Landers.
MSEC programs at the school include intensive special needs programs, the Center for Occupational Awareness and Placement, the Supported Center for Occupational Awareness and Placement and the School-to-Work program, "an initiative that builds collaborations among educators, businesses and the community to help students attain the knowledge and experience necessary for employment," said Landers.
Since the discussions with the MSBA have taken longer than anticipated, "It behooves us to notify people that there is an issue with the grant," said Selectman Michael Green. "And that could potentially, if this goes long term, it could mean an expense to the town."