This won’t likely be among the headline grabbing Town Meeting topics (except for here), but Natick will have a chance to once again think about possible uses for the now-vacant Depression-era Eliot School building at 5 Auburn St. in South Natick.
The 10,600 sq. ft. brick building down river from the South Natick Dam most recently served as a Montessori school, but that operation moved out in 2020 and has expanded across Rte 16 as Riverbend School (it did actually get some use as swing space during the pandemic). Going further back, it was a public school building into the 1970s.
Town Administrator Jamie Errickson during the Aug. 11 Select Board meeting described an article about the property as a sort of placeholder related to an article from a dozen years ago when the town faced similar questions about what to do about Eliot School. The new article will be co-sponsored by the town administrator and Select Board.
Natick sought special state legislation more than a decade ago allowing the town to enter into either a 99-year lease or a sale of the property, Errickson said. It didn’t get any takers for a sale. Instead, the town wound up negotiating a series of short-term leases with the Montessori school.
“Now we’re back with ownership of the building with a decision to make,” Errickson said.
One of the big catches with this historic structure is that needs lots of work. The boiler has failed, it has inefficient single-pane windows, and it isn’t ADA-compliant. It could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions to upgrade the building, which might be mothballed this winter rather than investing in a heating system for it, Errickson said.
The Town Meeting article would look to give Natick more flexibility in possible authorized uses for the property. While the town could look to use the property for community use, that would cost a bundle that isn’t necessarily available right now, Errickson said. Leasing or selling the property might be more desirable based on past indications from the town, though Select Board member Rick Jennett said he’d rather see the town retain ownership: “Land is one of the most valuable assets we have. Let’s find a way to make it work.”
The building, which sits on a 2.8 acre spread, is currently being used as flex space to store the town’s impressive collection of safety plastic built up during the pandemic.