Hadley board learns cost of fixing Russell Building $20-22 million

  • The Russell School Building is seen when it still served as a home for North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens. via Wikimedia

Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 13, 2019

HADLEY — Renovating the former Russell School Building, a centerpiece of the town’s historic center that also includes Town Hall and the First Congregational Church, may be cost-prohibitive, based on a report the Select Board received this week.

Rehabilitating the building to be able to use even a small portion of the three-story building for municipal purposes would cost $20 million to $22 million, Building Commissioner Timothy Neyhart told the board Wednesday. The building has about 6,000 square feet on each level.

“The cost is excessive,” Neyhart said.

That marks a four-fold increase in cost from a 2013 study by Drummey Rosane Anderson Inc. Architects of South Windsor, Connecticut, which pegged the cost of renovating the building at $5.9 million. Even at that price, though, the consultant recommended selling the 1894 building for private uses.

Neyhart said the estimates he provided are just for getting the building up to code, and not for addressing seismic issues, which could more than double the cost and place renovations in the $50 million range. Because the brick structure has no metal or rebar, if the region had an earthquake of any magnitude, the building might collapse, he said.

“If it shakes, it falls down,” Neyhart said.

Russell School was last used on a regular basis by the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens, which left the site in June 2015 and is now located in Sunderland. Hadley’s elementary school students were educated in the building until 1996, and for a decade the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School used the building as part of its Hadley campus.

Since 2015, the building has only been occupied temporarily, including by contractors who handled a state project on Route 9.

As the town already looks to sell the North Hadley Village Hall, and potentially demolish that historic building if no buyer is found, it’s uncertain how the Select Board will approach another aging and vacant town building.

Chairman Christian Stanley said he would like to know if there alternatives to tearing it down, renovating it or selling it. “I’d hate to lose that piece of land as part of town,” Stanley said.

Board member Joyce Chunglo said she was inclined to not spend significant money on the building.

“There’s a lot of things going on with that building that we can’t address as a town,” Chunglo said.

For instance, its west facade, which faces Hopkins Academy, has been sinking and may need to be stabilized.

Seeking an option for partners may be a course of action, board member Molly Keegan said, before having residents weigh in on its future through a referendum.

Neyhart said the town and the Municipal Buildings Committee need professional guidance to figure out the future of the building. This could come from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.