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Claremont Asks to Dissolve Goodwin Center Trust

Newport — The city’s petition to dissolve the trust governing the closed Goodwin Community Center property was presented in probate court Wednesday, but no decision was rendered by Judge Elizabeth Leonard, who said she would take the matter under advisement.

The city, backed by the Attorney General’s charitable trust unit, said when the property on Broad Street was given to the city by Mary Goodwin, widow of E. Charles Goodwin, a trust was established and one of the conditions was that the property could only be used for recreational purposes. With the opening of the new community center last March on South Street, the Goodwin Community Center, along with the Bailey indoor pool and Zotto gym, all located at 130 Broad St., were no longer needed and were closed in February 2013. City Attorney James Taylor said the trust has outlived its purpose and the buildings are in need of major renovations.

“It is impossible and impractical to continue operating the property at 130 Broad St., as a recreation center for residents of Claremont,” Taylor said. “I believe it is appropriate to invoke the petition.

“We will be able to sell the building and have the proceeds go into a fund that would support the new community center.”

Both Taylor and City Manager Guy Santagate said they will have an appraisal of the property done, but told Leonard the land is probably of greater value than the buildings.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa English, who is director of the charitable trust unit, spoke in support of the city’s petition.

“We ascent to the relief sought by the city,” English said.

Jim Feleen, a Claremont attorney who has served on the city Parks and Recreation Committee for 30 years, made it clear his position was not “adversarial” toward what the city ultimately wants to do with the property.

He agreed that maintaining the buildings for recreational purpose was not financially practical.

“We want to arrive at the same point,” said Feleen. “There is no question it (the Broad Street property) can’t be used for what it was intended. Our concern is we want to get there in the correct way.”

Feleen said the only relevant document is the deed transferring the community center building and land around it along with $25,000 to the city in 1943. There was money put in a trust to benefit the Goodwin Community Center left by Mary Goodwin in her will when she died in 1945. But Feleen said the money was exhausted a long time ago, primarily to build the indoor pool, and the trust no longer exists.

The property deed has six stipulations including requiring the town to make the center open to everyone, provide programs and funding and have it governed by a commission. Feleen said removing the stipulations, which he said don’t apply to the pool or gym, would accomplish what the city is trying to achieve.

Though he does not believe a trust exists, Feleen said if it does, the commission, not the city, is the trustee, as stipulated in the deed.

“The commission should be authorized and empowered to move toward what the city wants,” Feleen said. “Ownership is clearly the city’s but (the commissioner’s) are the decision makers.”

English again sided with the city.

“This is indeed a trust,” she said. “We don’t see anything to object to the existence of a trust.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.