Historic preservation group criticizes plan to repurpose old middle school
Hudson Heritage Association studying viability of converting building into community/cultural arts center
HUDSON — A scaled-back proposal for repurposing the 1927 section of the old middle school, 77 Oviatt St., is drawing criticism from a historic preservation group which is studying the viability of converting the site into a community/cultural arts center.
Liberty Development Co. originally planned to build about 35-36 residential units in and near the 1927 portion of the building, but a revised concept the company presented at webinars March 10 and 11 shows 14 residential units: five townhomes in a smaller section of the 1927 building that faces Oviatt Street; eight carriage homes east of the building site; and the renovation of an existing home on Oviatt.
Dru Siley, vice president of development and lead project coordinator for Liberty, said the 1927 section of the building is about 50,000 square feet and his firm is proposing to "adapt and restore" approximately 17,000 square feet for the five townhomes. Under Liberty's plan, the rest of the 1927 building would be torn down and additional living space and a two-car garage would be built on the back of each townhome. Liberty dropped plans for constructing two homes along Oviatt after concerns were expressed that the view of the historic facade would be blocked. The front lawn and oak trees in that area will be preserved.
The district is already planning to tear down the parts of the old middle school building that were constructed between 1960 and 1970 this summer.
Phil Herman, superintendent of the school district, said his staff continues to work with Liberty on its proposal. He emphasized officials have not made a decision on Liberty's plan yet, but said they "will need to make decisions regarding the scope of demolition of the old middle school and 1927 building toward the end of April."
Historical preservation group objects to plan
Leaders of the Hudson Heritage Association (HHA) — which has advocated for preserving the 1927 portion of the old middle school — said they supported removing plans for two homes on Oviatt, but were critical of the revised proposal that would demolish about two-thirds of the 94-year-old building.
"It is impossible to imagine such an inglorious end to such an illustrious building as the one now being proposed," stated Christopher J. Bach, president of the HHA. "It is a disservice to our community and a disservice to everyone who has worked so hard for decades to preserve and protect Hudson’s historic character and irreplaceable buildings."
Herman said he felt Liberty responded to community feedback by "significantly changing the plan."
"The most current proposal respects and preserves the characteristics of the neighborhood by restoring the grand, public-facing facade of the building to its original grandeur," said Herman. "Concerns about maintaining the lawn and trees in perpetuity are also being addressed. There will be no new construction on Oviatt."
HHA conducting study
Bach said HHA at the beginning of March launched a study to examine the feasibility of reusing the 1927 building as a community/cultural arts center. HHA retained Webb Management Services to conduct the study.
Webb Management Services officials are reaching out to non-profits, government and philanthropic leaders, and other group leaders to find out if they will participate in the initiative. Bach said interview invitations went out to 50 community leaders this week. He explained Webb Management Services will conduct "Zoom-based interviews" with these community leaders during the next few weeks.
Bach said the interviews are intended to collect information to help the consultants make recommendations on whether a community/cultural arts center is viable as an "adaptive reuse" of the 1927 section of the building.
Community members will then be invited to participate in a web-based survey to provide input and ideas for the building. This survey is included in part one of the feasibility study, which Bach said is expected to be finished in mid-April and could be presented to the board of education at that time.
In addition to the survey, other elements that will be addressed in part one of the study are: environmental scan and market review; competitive analysis (comparable facilities); defining uses and users; community benefits and impacts; conclusions, recommendations and presentation.
If HHA reaches a consensus on a recommendation, Bach said a preliminary business plan would be put together examining how the 1927 building would be "programmed, operated, financed and sustained."
The preliminary business plan would include the following elements; comparable models (facilities); governance and operations; programming plan and activity profile; staffing and services; pro-forma operating budget; funding strategies; tax credit investigation; and report and presentation.
School leaders listening to feedback
Herman said district officials are continuing to listen to, and respond to community feedback.
"Since 2016, this has been a journey in exploring ideas — through committee and citizen engagement — to find a use for the 1927 building that would not place a financial burden on our schools or our stakeholders," said Herman.
Herman said he respects both the HHA's effort to preserve the 1927 building and the wide range of opinions in the community about the best use for the structure.
"As the district continues to explore all options for the 1927 building, we remain hopeful that we can soon identify an alternative use that aligns with the interest of the community and is economically viable," said Herman. "While various ideas have been suggested over the years, at this time, only the Liberty proposal contains the required funding mechanism to make it work."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.