DURHAM – Voters will decide May 4 whether the town of Durham should take over the former Korn School and set aside $1 million for initial repairs and to plan a multi-phase project to develop it into a community center.
The referendum will follow a town meeting at 7 p.m. on April 27, at Coginchaug Regional High School. Voting will also be at the high school, and will be combined with the vote on the annual town budget.
A petition that gathered 118 valid signatures requires the town to ask at a town meeting if the town should take over the former Frances E. Korn Elementary School from Region 13 School District for $1, with plans to renovate it into a community center. The board of finance approved the revenue question at the request of the Board of Selectmen.
Voters previously rejected a plan to redevelop the school for $7 million. There is no set number for what the project is expected to cost this time, but it will cost several million dollars to develop the building into a community center, and the project will have to be completed in phases over an unknown period of time.
After questioning the Board of Selectman at length on Tuesday night, the Durham Board of Finance approved another question for the ballot – asking voters whether the town should transfer $1 million from the town’s building reserve fund to pay for initial costs of preventing the building from deteriorating further, getting it usable for town storage, and to plan future phases of the redevelopment.
If approved by voters, part of that initial $1 million would go towards planning the remainder of the project. Selectman George Eames said that figure was arbitrary and that it may not be enough to get “life” back in the building, but it’s important to get expertise to determine what the true costs will be.
In order to spend any more money than that on the project, the Board of Selectmen would have to ask for more funding. The building reserve currently has about $1.281 million. First Selectman Laura Francis previously said the project would have to be financed, possibly through bonding or a private placement through a bank.
Selectman John Szewczyk said that he was opposed to the funding question because the $1 million is not the true cost of the project, and said he didn’t want to mislead voters into thinking that it is.