Cape Elizabeth historians await action on Spurwink School

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Spurwink School Committee has reached a consensus recommendation that the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society move into the historic schoolhouse.

But a meeting to formalize the proposal hasn’t been scheduled.

Spurwink School was built in 1849 on Bowery Beach Road, but was eventually moved to Scott Dyer Road. It served as the town’s temporary library during the recent $4 million renovation of Thomas Memorial Library, but has been vacant since then. 

After a survey of residents in 2015 showed support for the town-owned schoolhouse being reused for a public purpose, the committee was formed to vet proposals and report back to the Town Council.

The five-member committee began meeting in May 2016 and was charged with presenting a recommendation by last September. After delays due to turnover in town staff, the panel’s term was extended until Dec. 31, 2017. 

At its peak members were meeting at least once a month, committee member and Town Councilor Jamie Garvin said there was a long period of inactivity after Greg Marles, former facilities manager and the committee’s staff liaison, resigned last May. 

“Some groups interested in the building also fell by the wayside,” Garvin said. “So between not having a facilities manager and having less pressure between competing parties, we took the foot off of the gas.”

The historical society, which is based in the Police Department’s former dispatch center, has been interested in the space all along. 

According to Garvin, there is a consensus on the committee to recommend the society move into the schoolhouse. However, as the year came to a close, members struggled to schedule a meeting.

He added that the committee will not seek another extension and anticipates meeting in the next week or two to review and finalize their recommendation.

“Nothing has been formally decided, but (CEHPS’s proposal) is the direction the committee is leaning in,” he said. 

Society president Jim Rowe said the group appreciates the town’s effort, but is “running out of patience.”

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The committee has made their decision, but just need to articulate it.”

Caitlin Jordan, who is a member of the committee and a town councilor, said she feels the whole process has been “very much ignored.”

“We were supposed to have this done a while ago, but it comes down to a lack of meetings,” Jordan said. “Marles resigned in the middle of the process and (successor Perry Schwarz) is new. It’s kind of slipped through the cracks.” 

Jordan said she thinks the society would be an ideal tenant.  

“The building itself is historic,” she said. “The town supports (CEHPS), but not as much as we could. Right now, they’re crammed into a glorified closet in the police station.

“It’s been a long time since the committee has all sat down together, but I know I support the recommendation.” 

Once the committee finalizes its stance and presents a proposal, it will be up to the town to make the final call and approve the plan.

Garvin said there are still important questions regarding cost, logistics, and other details that are unanswered and will be left to the council and Town Manager Matt Sturgis. Those questions include how much of the cost of required renovations will be funded by the town and how much CEHPS will be responsible for raising. 

Rowe said most of the renovations would be cosmetic changes to the building’s interior, as well as some additional parking space. 

“I can’t see the town expecting us to (foot) the entire bill, but I expect they’ll want us to have some skin in the game,” he said. 

The society has what Rowe called a “records management agreement” with the town, wherein the town gives the society space to operate in the police station in return for the society preserving and archiving town documents.

Rowe said two likely scenarios would be continuing the agreement or leasing out the space from the town.

An additional benefit would be access to the space by the Police Department’s technology department, which has expressed interest. The department currently occupies a room in Town Hall. 

Rowe said the historical society is very grateful to the town for providing space in the police station.

“It is very good in a lot of respects … but it doesn’t give us a lot of room,” he said. “History is cumulative. We’re always adding new things to our collection, and not getting rid of stuff at the same rate, so space becomes tighter and tighter.” 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

After a delay due to turnover in town staff and scheduling conflicts, a committee plans by mid-February to formally recommend that the Cape Elizabeth Historical Society be allowed to move into the 169-year-old Spurwink School.

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