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Franklin nears deal for use of closed Red Brick building

Charter school about to sign lease

By Rachel Lebeaux
Correspondent / October 26, 2008
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The town of Franklin is negotiating with Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School on a lease of the historic Red Brick School building to run through next June, and possibly beyond.

The Town Council signed off on the plan at its Oct. 15 meeting. Town Administrator Jeffrey Nutting said negotiations should be completed in the next week or two, with the lease likely to run from Nov. 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009.

"I'm glad we're going to have them for the next eight months and, if they like it, a longer-term lease could come to pass," Nutting said. "I think it's a very good use. A vacant building is not a good thing."

Finalizing the contract "will be very easy, because everybody is interested in getting this done," said Kevin O'Malley, head of the charter school. "The board of trustees voted on it, and the Town Council voted on it, so it's just a matter of getting the details."

O'Malley said that school staff members are exploring uses for the Red Brick space, and already imagine after-school activities, meetings, and perhaps certain science classes being held there.

"We're confident we can benefit from having it," O'Malley said, adding, "part of what the Board of Trustees wanted to do is be a part of something that could help the town."

The future of the 175-year-old one-room schoolhouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, came into question after voters turned down a $2.8 million override in June. The School Committee decided to stop using the building as a public school and declare it surplus at the same time it reduced the number of kindergarten classrooms in the Davis Thayer Elementary School system from three to two.

Town officials, working with the nonprofit Brick School Association, scouted community interest in the building before settling on the charter school as an ideal tenant.

"It's obviously very important to this community group wanting to continue using it as a school," said the Town Council chairman, Chris Feeley.

"The BSA is totally thrilled about maintaining the historical and educational integrity there," said Paula Sandham, secretary of the Brick School Association.

The charter school, located on Main Street in the old St. Mary's Parish school building, is a public school operated by a board of trustees and authorized by the state. The school has 418 students who receive a classical education, including French starting in kindergarten, Latin starting in third grade, and classes on character, O'Malley said.

The Red Brick School is about a quarter-mile away from the charter school, at the junction of Main, Maple, and Lincoln streets. Traffic can be intense in that area, which is one reason the charter school wants to reassess the lease at the school year's end.

"Any time you have a student go from your school to another place, no matter how close or far it is, you have to be concerned about that," O'Malley said.

The charter school is leasing the property for $1, Nutting said. The town is benefiting financially, however, because it will not have to pay the building's utility bills. Last year, the town spent $3,000 to heat the space, and more than $1,000 on electricity and water.

"We would have to heat the building anyway, and it costs more to insure a vacant building than an active building," Nutting said.

The Brick School Association secured a $5,000 grant for the building earlier this year and has money left over from donations made during the 2007-2008 school year. Sandham said that money will be used toward the building's utility bills and other expenses for the next few years.

The association "has been very helpful, and is committing to be helpful into the future," O'Malley said.

Sandham said his group has had a great experience working with the charter school and the town, and she's already hearing a buzz in town about the potential uses for the building.

"I feel like the community really came together," she said.

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