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Epsom interested in acquiring academy property

EPSOM - The Epsom Board of Selectmen will submit a letter of intent for the former Pathfinder Academy property, keeping the property on hold while the board inspects it before attempting to purchase it.

With an escape clause in the current lease approaching, the selectmen has been considering buying the property to use as town offices.

Selectmen discussed the purchase at a previous meeting, but determined that they were "putting the cart before the horse," and delayed the vote until they could get a better handle on the proper procedure.

At its April 29 meeting, the board voted 2 to 1 to submit a "letter of intent" for the property. The letter of intent is non-biding, simply taking the property off the market temporarily, should the bank accept it.

Should selectmen decide to move forward with the purchase and sale agreement, the question will ultimately have to come before the voters at a special town meeting. The town will have to petition a judge for approval to hold such a meeting, however, and the level of confidence that a judge will issue such an order varied at the meeting Monday.

Several selectmen have spoken of the property, which features multiple buildings with a total floor space of about 9,000 square feet (about double the town's current offices), as a space the town "can grow with" for the next 50 years or so, and with an asking price of $285,000 on a property evaluated at $900,000, a rare deal.

Select Board Vice Chair Betsy Bosiak, however, was less than enthusiastic.

Among Bosiak's concerns were several probable maintenance items on the property, such as a new water treatment system, and concerns that the bankruptcy proceedings might complicate the purchase, particularly given that the property's previous owners had filed for bankruptcy on previous occasions.

The meetinghouse, more than 150 years old, was moved onto town property with much fanfare several years ago. After a Cumberland Farms purchased its original site with intent to demolish the structure, a campaign to save the building, spearhead by Dick Frambach, was ultimately successful, and the building, in a dramatic event which caught national attention, was moved down the road to its current location. The building, in need of some renovation work, has remained vacant ever since.

Harty has argued that the meetinghouse wouldn't fit the town's needs, likely having space for the current staff, but allowing little room for growth. When pressed that he was defying the will of the voters, Harty also stated that the referendum as presented was more a measure of broad sentiment than true political will.

"I'll answer to the people," said Harty. "I'll answer by saying, yes, we had a referendum, a feel-good proposition: Do you like motherhood and apple pie, do you want to have town offices in that building, with no costs attached to it? . Easy. Now, add to that article, 'Do you support this at the cost of $50,000, $450,000,' whatever it is, I think the answer would've been a lot different."

Critics contend, however, that the board hasn't adequately and systematically investigated and considered the meetinghouse for use as town offices, in particular various solutions to space issues such as splitting the offices between the old meetinghouse and the old town hall building next door.

"The burden of proof is on them to show that it's not feasible," said Bruce Graham. "It's not on us to show that it is."

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