Process begins for post-education use of Memorial Blvd. School

By KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
Now that the Board of Education has officially turned the vacant schools over to the city, the council has given the Purchasing Department the “go ahead” to send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the use of Memorial Boulevard Middle School building.
A little over a month ago, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce made a presentation to the city’s Building Committee regarding the school building. The plan would be to house the chamber offices, as well as create a kind of incubator building for small, start-up businesses and to also utilize the building’s theater, which is something many have voiced concerns about when the building was in the list of schools closing.
The RFP, according to Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau, was put out last Friday, and will give the chamber, and other interested parties, the opportunity to essentially “bid” on the property, by Friday, Sept. 21. Rousseau said the RFP for this building is a little different than most because the property has stipulations attached to it, such as how to use the building, the theater and the athletic fields, and other guidelines.
“The city wants to make sure the building will continue to be used,” Rousseau said, adding that the city’s Real Estate Committee came up with specific criteria for the RFP and proposals submitted.
Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce President and CEO Mike Nicastro said he has already spoken with three businesses interested in being the first to open up in the building, if the chamber gets the approval.
“We’ve gotten great feedback about saving the theater, and when the RFP gets put out we are ready to make a move,” Nicastro  said, adding that he thinks if the chamber was approved to take on the building, it would have four to five businesses ready to be part of the “incubator process.”
“I feel pretty good about the whole thing; I know we can make it work,” Nicastro said.
In a previous interview, Nicastro described the chamber’s plan for the building to have two major goals: use the auditorium as an arts center kind of space. Through rental fees and ticket assessments, funds will be able to be raised that can be put into a capital fund for renovations. The arts space will be educational as well as an entertainment space. The rest of the building would be a collaborative place for start-up businesses and organizations that are devoted to media technology, bio-science technology or informational technology. The ideal circumstance would be for younger entrepreneurs looking for a space to start up a company, for an affordable rent in the center of the city. Then, once those entrepreneurs start to grow and develop, they can take their businesses out of the building, and into another vacant space in the city.
Now that the city has the school in its possession, it can also give the Mum Festival Committee the approval to use the school’s fields for the Balloons Over Bristol event during Mum Festival weekend at the end of September.
The other schools that were also given to the city are O’Connell Elementary School and Jennings Elementary School. The old Greene Hills Middle School building will be demolished, and the city also has the former Bingham School in its possession already.
Proposals submitted to the city will be discussed at a Real Estate Committee meeting on Monday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m.