Cape Elizabeth residents want historic school repurposed

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CAPE ELIZABETH — More than 51 percent of residents who responded to a recent survey said they would like to see the historic former Spurwink School reused for a public purpose.

The schoolhouse, which was built in 1849, is serving as a temporary home for Thomas Memorial Library while the library undergoes a $4 million renovation.

After the library reopens in its updated space early next year, the Spurwink School, which primarily served as the children’s room for the former library building, will be vacant.

One of the Town Council’s goals for 2015 was to determine whether there were any long-term uses for the 166-year-old schoolhouse.

A survey included in Cape’s recent tax bills, which asked a series of questions based on the council goals for this year, elicited 807 responses, according to Town Manager Mike McGovern.

Of those responding, 17 percent recommended the building be demolished, while a little more than 24 percent wanted to see the former school offered for rent to the private sector.

But the clear majority of respondents said they want to see the school “repurposed for public use, such as for school offices,” according to materials provided to the Town Council prior to its meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

At the meeting, councilors approved giving McGovern the authority to find out if there are any potential public uses for the former school. He will report back in December, when councilors will vote on a new use.

McGovern said suggestions for re-use “include a number of purposes related to the schools and for the historic society.” 

“My opinion is that the building should be repurposed as desired by the citizens and that the town should focus on both school needs and on the historical society,” he said.

He noted, however, that the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society moved from the library a year ago to what McGovern called a “good space at the police station, and they may wish to stay there.”

Overall, he said, “I think the council needs to focus on both the police space and the Spurwink School space for long-term uses.”

McGovern said there is some money available for renovation work at the school, but added that “the eventual cost (of such a project) will be dependent upon the actual use” chosen.

Construction began on the long-awaited renovation and expansion project at the Thomas Memorial Library this past spring and it’s on track to be finished in early 2016.

In addition to updated interior spaces, the new library will also include an outdoor play space, a reading garden and a small outdoor pavilion for performances.

The Spurwink School, which was originally located on Bowery Beach Road, was moved to the town center and dedicated as the community library in 1919.

The former Spurwink School, built in 1849, is serving as the temporary home for Cape Elizabeth’s Thomas Memorial Library.