Brunswick faces need for repairs to historic Growstown School

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BRUNSWICK — For almost 170 years, the Growstown Schoolhouse has been battling the elements.

It’s the last of 26 one-room schools that dotted early Brunswick, according to the Curtis Memorial Library; all the others have been lost to time.

But representatives of the American Association of University Women, who restored the school in 1983 and run an educational program at the town-owned schoolhouse, warned the Town Council Nov. 16 that Growstown could follow a similar fate if something isn’t done.

The Woodside Road school, literally, “is sinking into the ground due to inaction,” according to Joanne Bollinger, co-president of the Bath-Brunswick AAUW.

According to estimates the town solicited from private contractors, the cost of repairing the building’s foundation will run from $40,000-$70,000.

Town staff have known for a while that the structure is in disrepair. A report by Frohmiller Construction in 2008 found that floor joists and support beams were so deteriorated that they no longer provided adequate support.

The Town Council in 2009 appropriated $15,000 to repair parts of the floor, roof, and chimney. But a section of sinking floor was not fully repaired, and the town declared the building unsafe last March.

That put a temporary halt to a history re-enactment program run by the AAUW.

“We’ve lost half a year to this problem,” Linda Clement, chairwoman of the AAUW Growstown School Committee, said Tuesday.

Most years, fifth-grade classes, as well as some fourth-grade classes from around the region, come to Growstown in the fall and spring to “re-enact the life as it would be on a day in the 1850s,” said Clement.

Kids are asked to leave modern conveniences such as watches, lunch boxes and phones behind when they come to Growstown, Clement said. The school bus drops them two blocks away from the school so they have to walk, as children did in the 1850s, as their teacher rings a bell outside the school house.

Once at school, they take on the names of real students who attended Growstown, write with quills, and must bow and curtsy to their teachers.

“It’s just a wonderful program,” Clement said. “The research behind getting it all together was really phenomenal.”

Clement said 20-30 classes a year usually visit the school.

In hopes of getting the program going again in the spring, Public Works Director John Foster and his crew are at Growstown this week replacing the joists under the floor boards.

The town spent about $1,000 on the materials, according to Town Manager John Eldridge.

But repairing the floor will not remedy the underlying problems ailing Growstown.

Poor drainage and ventilation mean the crawlspace below the school is consistently damp. “The long-term solution,” Foster said, “is to dry it up.”

It’s up to the town staff and council “to find a way to fund (it),” Eldridge said in an email.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The Growstown School, built in 1849 at what is now the corner of Church and Woodside roads, is the last remaining one-room schoolhouse in Brunswick, and is suffering from water damage in its foundation.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.