RICHFORD — Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union has long planned to move but the town they are potentially moving out of is expressing serious concerns.
In an email to The Messenger, FNESU Business Manager Morgan Daybell says that the district is finalizing a request for proposals and hopes to have it out this week or next.
“The discussion started because we are outgrowing the current space we are in, and additionally the board has tuned into the point that our central office is not central to the district,” says Daybell.
FNESU currently leases 3,585 square feet of office space at 80 Main St. in Richford for $24,000 per year. When they are fully staffed, there are 17 “permanent” employees.
“People on the business side would be there full time and then Lynn (Cota, superintendent) and curriculum people there much of the time, but also visiting schools,” says Daybell.
FNESU then has about another half-dozen employees who work in multiple schools, who wouldn’t require a full office.
Richford Selectboard Chair Linda Collins calls the move, “devastating.” Collins attended FNESU’s board meeting on Tuesday to express her concerns.
“We support the supervisory union with our taxes and by the supervisory union renting the post office, Richford gets a little bit back from that,” she said.
Daybell responded to Collins’, comments, saying: “I certainly understand Linda’s perspective; she sits on the Richford Selectboard, and it is their role to look at business impacts for the town. Our board however needs to evaluate any potential spaces on the goals and needs of the district: location, cost and accessibility and functionality of the space.”
He notes that the accessibility issues stem from the fact that most of the space FNESU has is on the second floor of the building, which is not handicap accessible.
“Our downstairs space is wheelchair accessible, but only during the hours that the post office is open,” says Daybell.
FNESU is currently in discussions with several possible tenants to lease property for their offices, including Perley Block in Enosburg Falls. The Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation (FCIDC) is locked in discussions of its own with Perley’s owner to purchase and overhaul the building.
According to FCIDC Executive Director Tim Smith, they hope to create a space for childcare facilities as well as retail.
“We hope that a project of this nature will bring people to downtown Enosburg and bring customers for downtown businesses,” Smith told The Messenger in a previous interview.
Collins says that she’s been inundated with phone calls about FNESU’s possible departure.
“When we merged, people in Richford felt that soon it was going to be all Enosburg and it was slowly going to suck away from Richford. The phone calls I’ve been getting are expressing that same concern. That this is another nail in the coffin here,” she says.
She also says that Richford put in a new municipal parking lot across from the town bridge that could be used.
“I was at the Notch on Friday and saw the parking lot behind Perley Block, which was pretty full and I just wondered how with three things in that building there would be any more parking?” says Collins, who also says people in Richford are sad about the news.
Daybell says that FNESU is required to go through a competitive bid process for a new lease and a decision point will be brought to the board at its May meeting.