February 9, 2023
One small White River Valley city; 26,500 empty sq. ft
One small White River Valley city; 26,500 empty sq. ft
Rochester Faculty. Picture by Anne Wallace Allen

This summer season and past, residents of the city of Rochester try to determine what to do with an empty highschool constructing — 4 years after its final class graduated.

Following the district mergers and college consolidations that resulted from the passage of Act 46, Rochester, like a number of different small communities, noticed its native highschool turn out to be out of date. In RHS’s last 12 months, the varsity had simply two highschool college students. After graduating its last class in 2018, the varsity ceased operations.

“The highschool closure was a form of a sign occasion to the group that issues will not be heading in route. We have to do one thing completely different,” mentioned Vic Ribaudo, co-chair of the Rochester Excessive Faculty Repurposing Committee, which fashioned in 2020 to steer the method of determining what to do with virtually 26,500 sq. ft of usable area.

The northern White River Valley city of about 1,100 had operated an included highschool since 1886. The present highschool, in-built 1974, lies alongside the White River behind Rochester’s nonetheless working an elementary college for pre-Ok by way of sixth grade. After a 290-11 vote in 2017, Rochester joined with Stockbridge to kind a unified district with two elementary faculties that tuitions college students to different districts or personal faculties for center and highschool. As a part of that merger, the cities agreed that Rochester may buy its highschool for $1 after the varsity closed. 

This summer season, a feasibility examine outlined the small print related to repurposing the varsity right into a multi-use group heart and enterprise area. Among the many potential tenants: little one care, senior providers, mild manufacturing, arts organizations, well being care and an out of doors recreation program. 

Ribaudo, co-chair Kathryn Schenkman and committee members are working intently with the Rochester Selectboard and Rochester-Stockbridge Unified Faculty District, which nonetheless owns the property, to find out subsequent steps.

Pat Harvey, a member of Rochester’s selectboard, mentioned the city expects to vote on whether or not to buy the highschool in March 2023. 

The economics are difficult. The examine means that to ensure that a repurposed model of the highschool to make monetary sense, the constructing wants upwards of $3.1 million in updates. The proposed group heart would additionally require one or two “anchor tenants,” whose greater hire would supply a gradual earnings stream to fund the estimated annual working bills, adjusted for inflation, of $110,000 to make the initiative economically viable. One attainable anchor tenant recommended by the feasibility examine is the city itself.

The committee additionally lately realized that a part of the varsity property sits contained in the White River’s floodway, which precludes the positioning from receiving sure state and federal funding, Schenkman defined. However in line with Schenkman, as a result of it’s solely a sliver and doesn’t embrace the highschool constructing itself, the mission may nonetheless obtain funding with extra documentation, or by subdividing out the floodway portion. 

The committee is planning additional environmental assessments vital for grant proposals. The evaluation will, amongst different issues, decide the potential environmental results related to a ten,000-gallon gas tank buried on the property. At the moment, the group is trying to find a mission supervisor to deal with additional administrative work. 

Different cities with retired faculties have reworked the buildings for different makes use of. Wilmington has turned the previous Twin Valley Excessive Faculty into the Outdated Faculty Group Middle, which has undergone a continued growth right into a multi-use group area. In Springfield, the Park Road Faculty features as half college administrative area, half start-up innovation heart, with plans for additional growth and tens of millions of federal {dollars} on the best way.

Nestled within the Inexperienced Mountains, Rochester has turn out to be a regional recreation hub alongside the opposite ‘Quintown Valley’ cities of Hancock, Granville, Stockbridge and Pittsfield. The Ridgeline Outside Collective, primarily based in Rochester, has helped create, preserve and promote mountain biking and backcountry ski trails within the space. 

The mix of sports activities makes the city a year-round outside vacation spot. Ribaudo and Schenkman imagine the city can leverage that enchantment to draw extra younger individuals to the realm. A group heart would solely add to the draw, they mentioned. 

“We predict that this one merchandise can actually improve the standard of life on this group and make it extra engaging,” Ribaudo mentioned.

Lately, the highschool has been used to host city conferences and creative occasions just like the Inexperienced Mountain Suzuki Institute’s summer season music camp. Investing in repurposing the highschool would create a nucleus for elevated group engagement, its advocates say.

“The college has been a major place for not solely schooling, however social engagement, city authorities and any myriad of issues, proper?” Schenkman mentioned. “It is a cultural heart and now they wish to truly simply develop it as that, a lifelong studying and cultural heart to serve the Quintown space and past.”

Harvey, the choose board member, mentioned she is ready for extra info to make up her thoughts about the way forward for the highschool, however she lauded the work of the repurposing committee and different townspeople in advancing the group heart thought. “It appears as if we take one step ahead, and two steps again. However the willpower of the individuals within the (Quintown) Valley to make this work is relentless,” she mentioned. 

Correction: Resulting from an enhancing error, an earlier model of this story misstated the grades served by Rochester’s elementary college.

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