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Warrant will ask voters to approve sale of Salem's Foss School

SALEM - A warrant article asking voters to approve the possible sale of the former Mary Foss School will appear on the 2013 town meeting warrant.

On Monday, the Salem Board of Selectmen hinted at potential future plans for the aging school, and the board ultimately agreed to pursue the building's sale via a warrant article, though the sale price and who the building's potential buyer would be remains to be determined.

Built in 1924, the Foss School on Lawrence Road has most recently been used to house various community service organizations. The Salem Caregivers, Rockingham Community Action and Service Link all have offices there, and the town of Salem's Human Services department is currently housed in the building as well. The Caregivers are currently negotiating with the town to move their offices into the space that was once used by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

According to town manager Keith Hickey, the aging building has multiple issues, including a failing roof, furnace and insulation, and early last summer, the board debated closing the former school.

On Monday, Hickey said proceeds from the building's sale might be set aside for various purposes, which would be determined at a later date. Board chairman Patrick Hargreaves wondered if there would be any potential buyers. "Is this building in a wanted area? Are people interested in it?" he asked.

Town moderator Christopher Goodnow said he felt there would, indeed, "be a level of interest."

"When I look at Foss School, I think this is the right way to dispose of this property," Goodnow said, noting that apartment units or office spaces might be some of the possible uses for the former school.

However, asking prices for the structure would likely be listed on the lower end due to the building's structural issues, including the likely presence of asbestos and old, underground storage tanks. "We'd need to determine the extent of all this first and quantify that," said Goodnow. "We'd also need to look at the septic system's gallon capacity.

"I think there's a decent probability that this school is a redevelopment project and there's substantial cost associated with that," he stressed.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of the warrant, with selectmen Stephen Campbell opposed to the move. Campbell said he's personally opposed to building apartment units inside the school.

"I'm concerned we have a real asset here, and given the current economics, we just wouldn't get what we should for it," he said.

"It's always good to hope," Goodnow replied. "Frankly though, I don't see any signs right now that we'll see an economic upswing in the short term."

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