Bristol solicits 'purpose' bids on downtown school buildings

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The Town of Bristol is soliciting proposals for the future of its old downtown school buildings — Walley, Byfield and Reynolds.

Town Administrator Tony Teixeira was approached by current tenants of Byfield and Reynolds with a proposal to transform the buildings into an arts co-op. Before the town could consider that proposal, however, the town legally needs to put out a RFP (request for proposals), opening the opportunity to anyone interested.

"If the process is to do a RFP on all sites because it allows us to talk about it, then we need to do that," said Councillor Nathan Calouro during the Dec. 4 Town Council meeting.

Over two years ago, Parts and Recreation Director Walter Burke began utilizing space in the Reynolds school to build up his department's programs, which will then transfer to the Quinta Gamelin Community Center once it opened. That idea blossomed into renting out the rooms of that school and Byfield to small businesses, utilizing the space as a business incubator. Rents are collected and management of those leases falls under Mr. Teixeira's office.

"I don't want the town to be biased one way or another," said Councillor Mary Parella. "We have been leasing this out, and the whole idea (of the RFP) is knowledge. We need to know what's there, how long the leases are for and what the rents are.

"Let's do it and let's do it the right way."

By renting out the buildings, they were maintained and didn't deteriorate like Walley has, said Councillor Halsey Herreshoff.

An arts co-op would most likely not make the Town of Bristol any money, admitted Marie Knappman, chair of the Bristol Theater Company's Board of Directors. The theater company has formed a collaborative with the Guiteras Performing Group and the Colonial Theater and is operating out of the Reynolds school.

"We are offering arts to the town," she told councillors. "We just don't want to get pushed aside if there's something coming in that might make the town money."

The town's obligation is to act in the best interest of its residents and businesses, said Councillor Herreshoff, and an arts co-op probably isn't a bad idea.

"I can assure you that we're not wishing to put anyone out," he added. "I think there's enough space in these three buildings that we can possibly prosed with this new initiative. I want to hear from current tenants about their successes and what their intent is for the future."

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.