CHICOPEE – The 100-year-old former administration building of the Chicopee School Department sits in an inactive state at 180 Broadway Street, with years of disrepair and inaccessibility for the disabled forcing the department to lease new space in the Westover neighborhood . With the building no longer in use, the city council voted to accept the excess property under city control at its March 15 meeting.
Mayor John Vieau made the point as part of his mayoral briefing, saying the 180 Broadway building, which is on the historic register, remains in deficient condition.
“It needed major upgrades…It was deemed by the school board and our facilities manager that the space will no longer house the district office in the future. The right thing to do now since it’s vacant is to send it to the city council for you to return it to be owned as a corporate entity by the city,” Vieau said.
The mayor shared his ultimate plan for the space which will prompt RFPs to renovate the space, with the renovations expected to cost around $16 million. Once the building changes ownership, the city will conduct a study to assess its shortcomings and decide if a full demolition is necessary, according to maintenance manager Scott Chapdelaine.
The article caused some division among members of the city council. Ward 6 Councilman Derek Dobosz voiced his disapproval of the article, saying the city should place more emphasis on land conservation due to the lack of available land.
“I don’t necessarily object to this going into city control, but I think the city is going to sell the property and I don’t agree with that. Chicopee land is valuable, and if we lose city-owned land, we will never get it back,” Dobosz said.
The adviser also pointed out that the school department’s lease for its new administration building is “extremely expensive” at its cost of $285,000 per year, stressing that the department should develop a long-term plan for a new administration site. Ward 9 Councilwoman Mary Elizabeth Pniak-Costello said she also sees the benefit to the city of conserving the space for internal developments.
Ward 2 Councilor Shane Brooks said the transfer is key to finding a way to revitalize the space. He also pointed out that if the city issues a request for proposals for the space, council will ultimately have the final say once the accepted candidate seeks permits and final approval from city council.
“Ultimately this council will have the final say on whether this building will be given to a private developer,” Brooks said.
At-Large Councilor James Tillotson said the only way to develop the space is for the city to own it. He argued that the longer the space sits idle, the higher the cost of revitalizing the space will be. General Councilor Frank Laflamme and Ward 5 Councilor Fred Krampits agreed with Tillotson’s view.
After discussion, the city council accepted the excess property by a vote of 12 to 1.
Terminated TIF agreement
Vieau also introduced an item that would end the city’s Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) agreement with Prima North America, which has been in place with the city since 2004. The mayor shared that terminating the agreement will enable the city to move forward with its new TIF Agreement with Agilent Technologies, which was presented at the January 18 city council meeting.
Dobosz said the former owner of the TIF agreement has since sold their property, rendering their TIF agreement invalid. After a brief discussion, the city council unanimously approved the termination of the TIF agreement.