To the Editor:
We are all to blame for not paying attention and for not demanding that our historic buildings be maintained. That means being willing to pay more taxes or rearrange priorities.
The town owned the KGS building and even received a $500,000 STEAP grant in 2002 to remediate the asbestos and lead paint issues. Before the grant was spent, the town sold the building to Alling Grove Hill, LLC for $35,000 in 2003 assuming they would build the senior housing as planned and partner with the town to use the STEAP grant. That developer soon changed the plan to luxury condos.
The town repurposed the $500,000 to pay for clean up of the Stop & Shop park and Alling Grove Hill profited when they sold KGS to Newberry Development, LLC in 2007 for the incredible sum of $520,000. The town should have kept the building and bonded then for its renovation. We could have had seniors living in a beautifully restored historic town jewel by now. Instead the town wound up buying Knights of Columbus Hall and will be building senior housing over there. How was any money saved?
We are losing buildings that define the history of our town. KGS, The Worthington Meeting House, the old Peck Library and Ledge School all need help. Can we learn from this experience that town officials and Berlin citizens must be actively involved when it comes to how these heirloom buildings are maintained? I know from experience that it is extremely difficult to raise enough funds from the public alone for such projects. Town government has to be an active partner in the process from the beginning and not neglect and then give away our historic assets, trusting a developer or private owner will do the right thing.
Town officials had the best intentions when they asked Metro Realty to take on the project and Metro appears to be an ethical company, but the plan was not right for the neighborhood. An argument was made that a previous plan by Alling Grove Hill, LLC to add a larger addition onto the school with less set backs and less parking was approved 10 years ago. I don't recall reading public details of this at the time, but again, that underscores the need to pay attention to the planning process for any project in town. I still would rather have seen an addition with more senior housing. I hope all this renewed interest in KGS continues to grow and we learn from this experience to pay attention and be involved.