Developer eyes Bingham, O’Connell for senior housing

A local developer stepped up to Bristol’s Real Estate Committee last week expressing serious interest in the purchase of the vacant O’Connell and Bingham schools for re-use of the buildings and sites.
During a Real Estate Committee meeting held last Tuesday, Ted Lazarus of Park Lane Group LLC in Litchfield expressed interest in buying both schools and remodeling them into market-rate senior housing. Lazarus further stated Park Lane is interested in using at least one of the gymnasiums in both buildings for community use.
“It’s something we can do relatively quickly, and we would like to prevent them from being torn down,” said Lazarus. “They’re ideally suited—we think the demographics in the area are such that there would be more than enough support to populate it easily.” 
The Real Estate Committee voted unanimously to place both properties on “request for proposal,” (RFP) for prospective developers interested in buying any of the properties. The Committee plans to ask for proposals as soon as August.
In June, the Planning Commission held a listening session to help guide and inform the process of the community vision for possible re-uses of the historic buildings.
City Planner Alan Weiner said the commission discussed the two schools during a regular meeting after the listening session. He said the commission prefers that both O’Connell and Bingham Schools be reused and not torn down by a developer.
“The Planning Commission’s stand is they don’t see any need for the city to own the schools…and their preference is that the buildings be sold,” said Weiner. “If it’s economically feasible for a developer to reuse the buildings rather than tear the buildings down, that’s the commission’s preference.”
Built in 1916, Bingham School is a three-floor building that has been vacant since it closed in 2010. Built in 1954, O’Connell School is a 50,500 square foot building that closed two years ago. Weiner added the commission did not have a “burning” reuse preference for both schools, but considered housing as a “worthwhile” possibility.
“The Planning Commission felt that housing was certainly a worthwhile use, but other uses may come along that may be fully worthwhile.”
“In the case of O’Connell School, the Planning Commission also felt that it might be worthwhile for a developer to explore the possibility of a portion of [the building] being used for…leasing it to a nonprofit organization or someone who might be able to utilize a portion of the building for a neighborhood or community-oriented purpose.”
Weiner said once the buildings are off to RFP, prospective developers should be made aware of the flood study underway involving Bristol, Plymouth and Plainville concerning the Pequabuck River and recommendations from that study that could impact how O’Connell’s site can or cannot be used. Due to its location near the river, O’Connell School has suffered damage to its basement and auditorium areas caused by flooding, according to a Space Needs analysis released in 2012.
Weiner added the commission also felt that if end-users of either property wanted to nominate either of the buildings to the National Register or State Register of Historic Places for honorary purposes or tax credits, they would be encouraged to do so themselves.
During the meeting, Executive Director of Bristol Housing Authority Justin Malley said another end-user expressed serious interest in one of the properties, and he hopes to work with City Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau in marketing both schools to prospective developers.
Members of the Real Estate Committee expressed gratitude for Park Lane’s interest in buying both schools.
“I do want to see these things out there and turned back into productive properties again,” said Real Estate Committee Chairman Eric Carlson.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to approve recommendations to the City Council on how to handle both Bingham and O’Connell schools during a meeting on July 30.