BARRE — Until city councilors say otherwise, City Manager Steve Mackenzie isn’t ready to share three recently submitted proposals for using the rear portion of the iconic Wheelock Building.
All three sealed proposals were received by a council-imposed Sept. 27 deadline, and while Mackenzie did identify who submitted them, he said their public release was premature.
“I consider them competitive confidential proposals,” he said, noting they could contain “proprietary information” and the council might want to discuss them in executive session.
Mackenzie acknowledged he hadn’t reviewed the proposals in detail, but had forwarded them to the council in confidence and would leave it to them to decide whether and when they should become public.
“It’s really a council decision,” he said. “There’s a number of ways they could go.”
Mackenzie said one would be to authorize the release of proposals submitted by the Montessori School of Central Vermont, Studio Place Arts, which is known locally as SPA, and the Washington County Youth Service Bureau.
Mayor Lucas Herring confirmed that list and said while he is personally inclined to release the proposals, he would wait until conferring with the council before deciding how to proceed.
The proposal submitted by the Washington County Youth Service Bureau is believed to outline a plan to convert the back two-thirds of the building, which was built as a law office in 1871 and is best known as the longtime home of the local senior center, into a teen center.
Herring has championed that idea, while expressing a willingness to entertain other ideas if any surfaced.
It appears two now have, but it is unclear what SPA and the Montessori School have in mind for 2,100 square feet of now-vacant space. It isn’t even clear that the SPA proposal — submitted by former council member and the organization’s veteran executive director, Sue Higby — will survive.
Higby, who declined to discuss the details of her proposal, did say there is a chance it will be withdrawn based on information she had requested, but not yet received from the city Monday morning.
“I may end up needing to reevaluate,” she said.
While the proposals aren’t yet public, the discussion at Tuesday night's council meeting will be. It will focus on the process that should be used to review them.
Mackenzie said he couldn’t rule out the council wanting to meet privately with each of the nonprofit proposers before making a decision.
However, Herring, who will lead Tuesday night’s discussion, said he expected the proposals would be made available for public review as part of the yet-to-be-settled process.
Tuesday night’s process discussion involving the rear portion of the Wheelock House will be preceded by a potential action item with respect to its recently occupied downtown storefront.
With the council’s blessing, the Barre Partnership recently moved in and councilors will be asked to consider a one-year, no-rent lease with the downtown organization.
Under the terms of the proposed lease, the Barre Partnership would be required to cover one-third of the utilities for the building and establish and oversee a “welcome center" in the space, complete with brochures for tourists.
Herring has requested some clarifications involving the welcome center operation, but Mackenzie said he expected the council would be in a position to approve the lease, which is nearly identical to the lease the city had with an antique center that used the building. The only notable differences were the earlier agreement required a $585 monthly rental payment for the entire building with the tenant picking up the bill for all the utilities.
The fate of the Wheelock Building has been the subject of an on-again-off-again debate among councilors since the lease with the antique shop lapsed more than 18 months ago.
The council briefly flirted with the idea of selling the historic city-owned property earlier this year after passing over Higby’s proposal to lease the space as part of pilot project she argued could raise new revenue for the city. Higby was on the council at the time and has since suggested the city should explore more sensible alternatives to the teen center advocated by Herring.