Time to tear down Dana
Given all of the talk about blighted property in city government these days, thereís one great place to start ó Dana School. Tear it down!
If the city expects to intervene ó as is needed ó with blighted residential, commercial and industrial property, it must add city property to the list. No one cares if the former school building, now currently vacant and boarded up, is actually owned by the school district or the city. In fact, this ever-occurring, perennial debate should not even be part of the conversation.
The taxpayers own Dana, and the taxpayers expect sound investment decisions in regard to maximizing cost savings and/or renewing socio-economic development. No one cares if the tax benefits of a sale or deconstruction are realized on the schoolís side or cityís. What people care about is simply that there is a tax benefit, one that is integrally tied with the cityís improved aesthetic quality, economic development plan, and housing values.
In the spirit of keeping options and opportunities open, I fully agree with what I understand to be the School Boardís pending ballot request for city residents to pre-authorize a Dana sale. However, by tearing down Dana and either selling it to a residential developer or using the land for Stafford Technical Schoolís home construction program, the city will help to revitalize a neighborhood ripe in its attempts to rejuvenate itself.
This will not only increase revenue for the city by adding new stock to the grand list, it will also drastically improve housing values and attract buyers back to the city. In turn, this would also add to the grand list and reduce future tax burdens. The old-style houses across the street are beautiful, and thereís been tremendous private sector investments over the last five years along Easterly, East Center and East Street.
By tearing Dana down and doing some creative urban planning, these initial investments are guaranteed to spur further investment given proximity to downtown and other aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods. In short, tearing down Dana is an easy leverage for the city (government and residents alike) to stretch the dollar and invest in itself.
The pro-side of this argument is very much supported by the two presentations on a proposed city housing strategy conducted by the Rutland Redevelopment Authority. In short, two key statements emphasized more than once that: 1) Rutland needs more quality single-family housing stock, and 2) no one wants to buy property next to a blighted landmark, namely Dana School. Tearing down Dana addresses both; hence, the buildingís deconstruction officially fits into the cityís revitalization plan.
Of course, itís seemingly logical to call for a sale and reinvest any money elsewhere. I would agree with this if the city had the means and resources to make substantial investments in doing away with the broken down fencing, paved-over pedestrian areas and curbing and sidewalks around the school. However, I doubt the city will make such a substantial investment once the property is off its books. And the type of organization to potentially buy such a property will most likely not have the funds to renovate beyond the basics. Thus, there will be no sustained tax benefit to the city taxpayer, and property values will drop as opposed to rising. Thus, itís a nearsighted investment to look for a quick sale.
The second argument to selling involves antipathy toward the anticipated cost of tearing down the building and returning the land to its ďnatural state.Ē To this I would ask, ďHow much money have we put into this dilapidated, under-utilized building simply to keep it heated and the lights turned on?Ē Iím sure itís in the hundreds of thousands to date, and Iím sure it will cost the city hundreds of thousands more before a buyer is found.
With this in mind, Iím sure that if a sound cost-benefit analysis were to occur, which I call upon the School Board to conduct in partnership with the Board of Aldermen, both economic and social benefits would far outweigh the costs over a sustained investment period. Letís not wait another 10 or 20 years or however long itís already been. Letís get it done now.
Like many, I have an incredible sentimental place in my heart for Dana School. Some of my closest lifelong friendships were formed there as a child; also, some of my greatest memories in life involve the school that used to be there. But that is in and of itself exactly the point. Dana School was not the building. The Dana School that ďused to beĒ came from the love and service the teachers gave to the surrounding community. Thatís not there anymore; itís on the other side of town. What is left along East and Easterly Street is a broken down piece of brick that represents a huge burden to taxpayers and homeowners alike. Hence, itís time to go.
Christopher Siliski is a member of the Rutland Board of Aldermen.