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Lebanon Finds Success Marketing Old School Buildings

  • During a morning Head Start preschool session at the School Street School building in Lebanon last week, Jeffrey, 3, looks at a photograph of Boston’s Robert Shaw monument that family support coordinator Marie Stewart holds while his mother, Mallory Pleger, gestures toward the image. The Lebanon schools are selling the former elementary school and other buildings. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    During a morning Head Start preschool session at the School Street School building in Lebanon last week, Jeffrey, 3, looks at a photograph of Boston’s Robert Shaw monument that family support coordinator Marie Stewart holds while his mother, Mallory Pleger, gestures toward the image. The Lebanon schools are selling the former elementary school and other buildings. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ethan, 4, teases Sky, 4, by putting a cardboard block on her head while she was trying to have a meal with pretend food with Banipreet, 3, right, during playtime at the Head Start preschool program in the lower level of the former School Street School Building in Lebanon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Ethan, 4, teases Sky, 4, by putting a cardboard block on her head while she was trying to have a meal with pretend food with Banipreet, 3, right, during playtime at the Head Start preschool program in the lower level of the former School Street School Building in Lebanon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The former School Street School building in Lebanon has continued to host students, with a Montessori school and a HeadStart Preschool program. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    The former School Street School building in Lebanon has continued to host students, with a Montessori school and a HeadStart Preschool program. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Head Start lead teacher Nancy Bagley reads a book to Rachel, 4, during their morning preschool program.  The class, which normally includes around 20 children, began meeting in the building six weeks ago. (<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Head Start lead teacher Nancy Bagley reads a book to Rachel, 4, during their morning preschool program. The class, which normally includes around 20 children, began meeting in the building six weeks ago. (
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rachel, 4, practices writing her name during a quiet moment by herself at the Head Start preschool program. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Rachel, 4, practices writing her name during a quiet moment by herself at the Head Start preschool program. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • During a morning Head Start preschool session at the School Street School building in Lebanon last week, Jeffrey, 3, looks at a photograph of Boston’s Robert Shaw monument that family support coordinator Marie Stewart holds while his mother, Mallory Pleger, gestures toward the image. The Lebanon schools are selling the former elementary school and other buildings. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Ethan, 4, teases Sky, 4, by putting a cardboard block on her head while she was trying to have a meal with pretend food with Banipreet, 3, right, during playtime at the Head Start preschool program in the lower level of the former School Street School Building in Lebanon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • The former School Street School building in Lebanon has continued to host students, with a Montessori school and a HeadStart Preschool program. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Head Start lead teacher Nancy Bagley reads a book to Rachel, 4, during their morning preschool program.  The class, which normally includes around 20 children, began meeting in the building six weeks ago. (<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Rachel, 4, practices writing her name during a quiet moment by herself at the Head Start preschool program. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Lebanon — School district officials have deals in place to sell three of the four district-owned properties put up for sale in the last year.

The sale of the former schools, which were shuttered in recent years under a consolidation plan, will allow the district to shed hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual utility and maintenance cost, and give the historic buildings over to residential or commercial uses.

Star Johnson, owner of the real estate firm that the School Board hired to market the properties, said that in addition to interest in the buildings as historic properties, “certain people may have quite a bit of optimism regarding the future of Lebanon.”

Lebanon attorney Peter Decato is one of those people. He is in the process of purchasing the former school district office building on Hanover Street that sits across from his childhood home, next to the former Sacred Heart Elementary, where both he and his parents attended school.

“On a personal level, I want to preserve that building,” said Decato, who recently placed a $400,000 bid and expects to finalize the purchase before the summer. “It certainly has a lot of history to me, and to many people like me.”

Decato said last week that he is still deciding whether to use the former district offices, which at one time was a convent, for his law practice or a real estate firm that he manages with his wife.

“We’re going to know by closing time, but it’s going to be office space one way or another,” he said.

Decato said the former convent has too much historical significance to the city’s Roman Catholic community to let it sit vacant.

“I just want to preserve it and leave it in better shape than I got it in,” he said.

Like Decato, developer Mike Davidson said his attachment to Lebanon neighborhoods was a major factor in his decision to buy two former schools.

Davidson owns and manages Execusuite LLC, a White River Junction-based firm that specializes in redeveloping old buildings, but he said when he heard about the former junior high school’s impending closure, it was more of a personal matter than a business matter.

“I was kind of saddened by it,” said Davidson. “It’s a neat old building.”

The School Board has accepted two bids from Davidson — $851,000 for the former junior high school on Bank Street, built in 1927, and $400,000 for the School Street School, which was built in 1874. (A separate building built in the mid-1830s once stood on the same lot, but was taken apart and removed several decades ago.)

Davidson said he envisions the classrooms of the former junior high — which became expendable when the new middle school opened this year — becoming loft apartments, but the downstairs is a “bit of a wildcard.”

While he would like to keep the gym as a multi-purpose recreation room, Davidson said he is considering a timeshare element that would allow interested parties to rent out the space. The lower floor could also accommodate “several different parties,” he said, because that space is more suited for commercial purposes.

Most importantly, according to Davidson, he has no plans to develop the playing fields next to the old junior high school “at this point, or probably ever.”

“While you could develop them, I think they’re too valuable to the community,” he said. “Those fields should be playing fields.”

As for the School Street School, Davidson said he will continue to lease space out in the building to be used for alternative education programs that were already located there, which include the Ledyard Charter School, the Head Start center run by the nonprofit group Tri-County CAP, and the Montessori school.

Karen Ferguson, who runs the Head Start center-based program in the School Street School basement, said it holds classes for 20 families four days a week.

While renovations to the building delayed the start of the school for Head Start by a couple of weeks at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, Ferguson said “it’s really nice to have a permanent home.”

“And Mike (Davidson) has gone above and beyond to do what he could do to make sure that these kids were able to start school as soon as possible,” she added.

Voters last March approved the sale of School Street School, Sacred Heart school and the district offices, which were built in 1932.

District officials are still seeking the go-ahead from voters this March for the sale of the former junior high school. If the sale is approved, that would bring the total revenue of building sales to more than $1.5 million.

The School Board has so far not received any bids for the Sacred Heart School, which was build in 1909 and for which the asking price is $499,000.

In March, voters also will decide the fate of a zoning amendment that would allow the former junior high school to be used for commercial purposes. Davidson pointed out that he could always seek a special exception if, for whatever reason, the amendment fails.

Lebanon School Superintendent Gail Paludi said that it has come as a relief that the purchasers of school properties so far have had ties to the city.

“That’s something we really hoped to find,” she said. “The board had hoped that we would find people who would be willing to preserve the buildings and keep their historical value.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction ran in the Tuesday, Jan. 8 edition of the Valley News:

The School Street School building in Lebanon was constructed in 1874. A separate building built in the mid-1830s once stood on the same lot, but was taken apart and removed several decades ago. An article in yesterday's Valley News inaccurately reported the construction date of the school.