Finance Committee to Discuss Policy for Disposal of Surplus Town Property


Clubhouse at the Hickory Ridge Golf Course. Photo: Art Keene.

By Maura Keene

The Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss revising the policy for disposal of town-owned property that is no longer seen as needed for public use. Although the agenda for the February 6 Finance Committee meeting has not yet been posted, as of this writing, committee members expressed an interest in reviewing the policy on surplus property at their January 23 meeting.

The existing policy was written in 2018 and contains references to the Select Board and Town Meeting, which are not applicable to the current government. A draft revision was proposed in October, 2023, but has not been fully discussed.

The 2018 policy stipulates that the Town Manager form a Real Property Advisory Group, chaired by the Assistant Town Manager and including the Assessor, Treasurer, Planning Director, Superintendent of the DPW, and Economic Development Director. The advisory group was charged with evaluating property being considered for disposal and holding a public hearing that included abutters to the property. According to the policy, the advisory group would then present its findings to the Town Manager and Select Board. If the group recommended to dispose of the property, and the Town Manager and Select Board agreed, it would go to Town Meeting for a vote.

The new proposal does not include an advisory committee, but does require the Town Manager to notify the council of any town-owned real property that is no longer seen as required for public purposes. The Town Manager would include the following information about the property in their report, according to the draft:

1. A description of the property, including its history, current use, and any structures thereon.

  2. A map of the property and abutting parcels. 

3. The existing zoning status of the property and any zoning changes that have been made within the past five years. 

4. Projected annual revenues and costs associated with the property. 

5. Analysis of alternative uses for the property, including public benefits and drawbacks, development potential, environmental impact, and financial impact for each alternative. 

6. Two independently prepared appraisals of the property’s worth and a good faith estimate of the property’s value to a prospective buyer. 

7. Restrictions that may be placed on the property prior to sale. 

8. Recommended action, including a recommended minimum amount the Town shall be paid for the property.

The council would hold a public hearing regarding the property within 90 days. A two-thirds majority vote of the council would be required to dispose of the property, unless it would be used for affordable housing, in which case only  a simple majority would be needed The Town Manager would be responsible for negotiating a contract with a buyer.

This policy would apply to any sale, lease, or transfer of town-owned real property. (Property belonging to other town entities, such as the school department, would have to be transferred to the town before it could be sold.) Currently, the town owns several buildings that are seen as unusable and needing to be demolished. These include the old Hitchcock Center for the Environment and the Hickory Ridge clubhouse. The South Amherst school might be transferred to the town and sold, and town-owned property on Strong Street is being evaluated for possible use for affordable homeownership.  On the horizon is the disposition of the Wildwood Elementary School building, which is slated to close in September of 2026, concurrent with the opening of the new elementary school at the Fort River site. 

The next Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 6 at 2 p.m. on Zoom. Members of the committee are Bob Hegner (District 5, Chair), Cathy Schoen (District 1, Vice Chair), Andy Steinberg, Mandi Jo Hanneke, and Ellisha Walker (at large), and non-voting members Matt Holloway and Bernie Kubiak. 

Read More: 

What Will The Town Do With Its Surplus Property? By Art Keene

A New Senior Center: If Not at Wildwood School Then Where? (Letter) By Ira Bryck

Wildwood School Building Can Meet Town’s Pressing Needs For More Civic Space (Indy Rewind) By Irene DuJovne

A Community Center: If Not At Wildwood, Where? (Indy Rewind) By Kitty Axelson-Berry, Art Keene and Maura Keene

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6 thoughts on “Finance Committee to Discuss Policy for Disposal of Surplus Town Property

  1. I understand how the town needs to liquidate unused properties, turning those assets to cash and into a higher and better use. But in the case of Wildwood School, it deserves more consideration and public input than the current system requires. That property is well located, and could fulfill needs such as a senior center, teen center, and more that has been suggested in many Indy articles.

    On Feb 6’s 2pm zoom Finance Committee meeting, please consider making a public comment, supporting a bigger public input process, to explore the overall best next chapter for Wildwood School.

    The link to that meeting is:

    and/or make yourself heard to the town council – especially to those town councilors who are the finance committee- you can email them here: and also post it to the town council comments page, here:


  2. Two things strike me as odd and perhaps inapprorpiate. First, the description of these properties as “surplus” is assuming an answer before the process of review is undertaken. Words matter. The properties under review might better be described as decommissioned or potentially decommissioned. A review may determine that they are surplus but that should not be determined prior to the review.

    My second question is why the Finance Committee? Of course since we don’t have an independent Finance Committee – as we should – the question is slightly academic; the Finance Committee is currently part of the Town Council. (It has non-voting members, but why are they non-voting?) Of course, any decision about decommissioned properties will have significant financial implications, and the Finance Committee should have a significant role in reviewing those decisions. But the decisions will have other implications as well, as the review criteria acknowledge, and the Finance Committee should not be the primary reviewing body. Perhaps we need a Public Buildings Committee, or some such, to be the initial review body for decommissioned buildings.

    Two other comments on public comments apparently made recently. Athena O’Keefe implored the Finance Committee not to think about Wildwood School when reviewing and revising the criteria. I implore the Committee to consider Wildwood; it is an exemplary case against which to test the adequacy of the policy. When the building is returned to town control, presumably in two years time, a policy to deal with this major physical plant should ber well in place. Moreover, the intense public interest should be a factor in revising the general policies covering properties in which there is a wide public interest.

    Finally, Lynn Griesemer was quoted as giving a price of forty million dollars to bring the building up to code in terms of its systems and infrastructure. I don’t know where that figure came from or what assumptions underlie it, but if it was meant to scare us it shouldn’t. It is premature, since we don’t know to what uses the building would be put, how much of the building would be repurposed, or how that figure would compare with other ways of meeting the town’s pressing needs. I will cheer when Wildwood is finally decommissioned as a school, but I will cry if the building leaves the public domain with so many needs – which all have been documented – remaining unfilled.

  3. The problem with using Wildwood as either a senior center or teen center is transportation for those without cars. The Bangs Center is downtown and right next to well over a hundred units of senior housing, critical mass for anything to build on.

    Wildwood is in a neighborhood of single family houses — it’s why it was built there (the Bangs Center is an old school, one of three that once were there the Jr High and High schools are on the old town poor farm).

    And if it is used as a teen center, what will be the consequences of its close proximity to UMass, (essentially across the street)? I do think that question needs to be asked…

  4. To Mr. Cutting,
    Bus routes are not stone buildings. They can be altered easily at any time. Decisions about immovable objects should not be based on moveable bus routes.

  5. And if it is used as a teen center, what will be the consequences of its close proximity to UMass, (essentially across the street)? What are you imagining the consequences might be?

    The buildings at the top of Strong Street are a water tower, and dorms, and parking lots, and some apple tree fields, and the Clark Memorial art installation. I think it would be awesome for teenagers to use those spaces, which seem pretty under-utilized to me.

    Or is the concern that college students will bother to walk down to Wildwood ….? to do what, hang out with high school students?

    Regardless, there are plenty of college students hanging out downtown in the coffee shops, where high schoolers also congregate. We don’t really segregate high schoolers from college students any other place, and how could we, in a town with three colleges?

  6. Call me cynical, but I was in Student Affairs too long to have the halcyon views expressed above. The numbers are from memory and hence are approximate, but Butterfield has about 200 students, Van Meter about 500, and the four Orchard Hill dorms total about 1,200 — that’s 1,900 undergraduates living there, and at least a thousand more with guests. The Siren Song of thousands of college students.

    It’s not that the college kids will go down to Wildwood, although I don’t see it a problem if they do — a 17/18 year old freshman developmentally is identical to a 17/18 year old high school senior — there is a *lot* of overlap and the town would have a *lot* fewer problems if it helped meet the needs of this cadre, which UM simply can’t.

    What I’m concerned about are the high school (and middle school) students going up onto campus and getting into the dorms where you do not want them being! Two words: Sex and Drugs.

    The age of consent in Massachusetts is 16 so it isn’t statutory rape if the girl is older than that — but how many parents want their daughters “hooking up” (i.e. having sex with random 20-year-olds)? I’ll leave that to the parents to comment on — although in 30 years, I never met one who thought this was a good idea. And not all of them will be 16, which raises a whole lot more issues…

    And then there’s drugs. UMass has a serious drug problem and I don’t even mean marijuana here, although that is sometimes laced with fentanyl. “ZooMass” had a reputation for beer, and some may be thinking of their own college days, but in the late ’90s it shifted to drugs being a far more serious problem. Three factors are that they are cheaper than they used to be (now cheaper than beer), they are much easier to conceal, and harder to detect.

    UMass has a serious drug problem!

    And the worst part is that the students mix & match — even if they knew what they were taking (and so much of it is counterfeit that they don’t), the combinations they consume would make any rational person cringe. Stimulants, depressives, and hallucinogenics mixed in random combinations, all washed down with assorted alcoholic beverages. That’s not an environment you want your middle & high school students in.

    Not to mention that they’ll be able to buy drugs and then you’ll be chasing that stuff through your schools, even more than you already are.

    It’s not interacting with college kids that I am worried about — it’s teens and tweens getting into the college dorms…

    And as to bus routes, sure PVTA would be happy to put one most anywhere if someone is willing to pay for it The current “free” bus routes through town are largely paid for by UMass students – about $50 a semester and that may have increased with inflation. So who’s going to pay?

    And what will be the route, and will it be a “one seat ride” or will youths have to transfer to another bus to get to their actual residence? And will they?

    I’m just asking questions similar to the ones that ought to have been asked before the Tilson Farm Steam Plant was built. For those not familiar with that story, someone came up with the bright idea of piping live steam 1.9 miles down Eastman Lane (downhill) and then running it through turbines. Water droplets in live steam act like bullets, turbines don’t like them, and things went downhill from there….

    As an aside, it is Dr. Cutting — I graduated (actually thrice).

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