Royalston voters to decide on $2.5M in borrowing for Raymond School overhaul 

  • Roland Hamel, who sits on both the Selectboard and the Building Committee, discusses the floor plan proposed for the former Raymond School which, if voters approved the funding, will be transformed into town offices. The town is seeking a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to pay for the renovations. Some $800,000 of that amount would come in the form of a grant, which would not have to be paid back. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

  • Royalston Building Committee Chair Jim Barclay, left, and committee member Roland Hamel, right, flank town resident Matt Valliere during Saturday’s open house at the former Raymond School, which town officials want to turn into town offices. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

  • Royalston Buiding Committee member Roland Hamel examining what had been the boiler room for the former Raymond School. Town officials plan on moving municipal offices into the building, which was constructed in 1939. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 2/23/2022 2:27:43 PM
Modified: 2/23/2022 2:27:20 PM

ROYALSTON — Royalston voters will be asked at this Saturday’s Special Town Meeting to borrow $2.5 million to pay for what town officials say is the transformation of the former Raymond School into badly needed office space for municipal departments.

If the measure passes, not only will offices now housed at Whitney Hall in South Royalston be relocated to Royalston Center, space also will be created to house records and to hold meetings of currently homeless boards and committees such as the Cemetery Commission, Cultural Council, and others.

At a recent Selectboard meeting, it was decided the town should move ahead with an application for a loan and grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture. The board endorsed Building Committee member Tom Musco’s recommendation that application be made for a $2.5 million, 40-year loan from the USDA. The town also will ask that $800,000 of that amount be awarded in the form of a grant, which would not need to be paid back.

However, since the loan and grant awards won’t be announced until later this year, voters will be asked to borrow the money without knowing for certain if the USDA will back the project.

An open house was held at the Raymond School Feb. 19 to give voters a chance to check out the interior of the building, constructed by Depression-era Works Progress Administration crews in 1939, and to get a look at the proposed floor plan for the town offices.

Royalston resident Matt Valliere, who lives on Royalston Common, was one of those who stopped by. He said he had “mixed emotions” regarding the project, both in terms of cost and of the changes proposed for the historic building.

“You can’t just have everything be a museum,” he told the Athol Daily News. “But at the same token, we’re a small town with not a lot of tax revenue. It’s a substantial project and the long-term plan is unclear.

“I think some people who may be OK with the project in general may not like the fact we’re being asked to vote on $2.5 million, but we’re not supposed to find out whether or not we get that grant until days after the vote. That’s unsettling,” Valliere said.

“We’re pretty sure — I don’t want to say we’re 100 percent sure — but we’re pretty sure we’re going to get it,” Selectboard and Building Committee member Roland Hamel said. “But they won’t let us know until they know the townspeople have OKed it.

“We’re asking for a very high amount,” Hamel continued, “even though we’re not going to use that much; we know we’re going to be way under that, unless something changes drastically relative to building costs.

“We know we’re not going to use it all because we have a new roof. The insulation is all done. We already paid to have all the asbestos taken out of here. So, none of that stuff has to be done. We’ve actually got a good shell and we just need to build the petitions and do the wiring and the plumbing,” he said.

In addition, the town received an Americans With Disabilities Act grant to install handicapped-accessible bathrooms, Hamel explained, adding that an aluminum ramp is on site to replace the wooden ramp that had been used for access. He pointed out, however, that if plans for the installation of an elevator are approved, the ramp will either be sold or moved to Whitney Hall.

Hamel said while the town’s need for modern office space is great, it’s also important to vacate Whitney Hall if that historic structure is to be saved.

“We have to empty that building to do something with it,” he said.

“We’ll have offices in here that we never had offices for. We have people working out of boxes in their homes. I’m on the Cemetery Commission and that’s what I have — a file cabinet at home for the cemetery stuff — and it shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t be in my house; it should be here,” he said.

Hamel said it was decided to seek what appears to be a higher than necessary amount in order to address the potential of any cost overruns.

“If we run over (the loan amount) a little bit,” he explained, “we’d have to come back to the town to vote to approve the extra money. We want to have it so that we don’t have to go back to the town, that’s what the USDA people said. They said, ‘You’re better off asking here than having to get town approval again.’ We’re trying to eliminate a step and get a higher amount that we have no intention of reaching.”

Hamel also stressed that, if the loan is approved, $800,000 comes in the form of a grant that need not be paid back.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t you just go for a new building, it’d be cheaper,” he continued. “Well, it might be cheaper, but not necessarily because we’ve already got so much work done on this building. I just don’t know if it would be cheaper.”

Speaking of the Building Committee, Hamel said, “We’ve put a lot of hours into this, and I think this is the biggest bang for our buck. We were able to get the smaller grants and put them in here and lower the major cost of redoing the whole building.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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