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CUMBERLAND — There may come a time when it will be possible to walk directly to the Cumberland Historical Society simply by entering Prince Memorial Library.
The society’s 4 Blanchard Road building, next to the old Town Hall, was built in 1853 as a schoolhouse and sits just 0.2 miles from the 266 Main St. library. The Town Council on Feb. 11 authorized the formation of an ad hoc committee to explore moving the society building to an undetermined spot on the library property, where the two structures would be connected.
The approximately 1,400-square-foot building and the 0.35 acres on which it sits, both owned by the town, are valued at about $173,000, according to the town’s online assessing database. Minus the building, the land is worth about $93,000.
Town Manager Bill Shane on Feb. 11 said sale of the land to abutter Sevee & Maher – which operates out of the old Town Hall – should be enough to fund a new foundation for the building on the library property and its move.
Councilor Bill Stiles said at that night’s council meeting that an appraisal of the property has been completed, but the figure cannot yet be made public.
“Some of the stuff we have to do, to make the deals go through, is keep them private,” he said.
Funds for other project elements – such as roof repairs and the structure’s connection to the library – should come through a capital campaign, historical society curator and President Carolyn Small said Feb. 14.
The costs could exceed $100,000, according to Shane, and will be determined as the committee does its work.
The society has a trust fund dating back nearly 50 years from Paul Merrill, a Cumberland resident who owned Merrill Transportation. Small did not divulge how much was left in the fund, but said all of it would go toward the project.
Merrill had a vision to move the structure to the library, so “it’s not a brand new thought,” she added.
Nor are the two buildings that different in composition. The bricks used in the library’s original, 1850 section were fired in a brickyard in the wooded area behind that structure – as were those used in the schoolhouse.
“So in essence, we’re coming back home,” Small said.
The schoolhouse functioned until 1952, and afterward served as a town office and police station before it was occupied by the historical society in the 1980s, according to Small.
It is one of two remaining schoolhouses in Cumberland, where town staff has been looking into repairs needed by the structure – estimated at “more than six figures,” according to Shane.
Its connection to the library would allow the society’s displays to be shown the 45 hours a week the library is open.
“Right now, you’re either by appointment or a couple hours a month,” Shane explained, while at the library, “the public would have a chance to see part of Cumberland history (on) a much more regular basis than occurs now.”
“I’d love … to see us get more workspace and more display space for what we have,” he added.
The town, society and library are collaborating on the project through the ad hoc committee.
“Nothing is etched in stone yet because the whole committee hasn’t been formed yet; therefore we have not had a meeting,” Small said.
Over the next few months, the panel will explore the best location for the building, and how it fits in with the master plan for future library expansion.
That was a key concern expressed Feb. 11 by Tom Foley, chairman of the library’s advisory board.
“There is a consensus that after 32 years, the library needs more than a facelift; we need additional space,” he told the council, noting that while he favors the move, he wants to ensure that an architect charged with determining the schoolhouse’s location should also include plans for expansion.
“We think it would save money from the standpoint of not having to hire an architect twice,” Foley said. “… He’ll have the opportunity to make the best use of available space for both projects, and wrap them into one plan.”
Councilors agreed, and Shane said he anticipates things moving quickly in the coming months.
“We’re hopeful that sometime during 2019 we could at least get the building on a solid foundation and get some repairs to the roof before it collapses,” he said. “It’s one of the last buildings that’s a former schoolhouse in Cumberland, and we’d like to preserve that.”
This former Cumberland schoolhouse, built in 1853 near the corner of Blanchard Road and Main Street, could be moved later this year to the nearby Prince Memorial Library property. The Cumberland Historical Society has operated in the building since the 1980s.