Former Topsham school, Town Hall, get new life as senior housing

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TOPSHAM — A building constructed in 1896 as a place to educate children will soon become a home for senior citizens.

The former John A. Cone School will open next month as the newest member of the Highlands retirement community, an upscale, four-unit rental called the Olde Town Hall Apartments, for people 55 and older.

Having started as the Topsham Grammar or Village School, the Elm Street structure building educated Topsham children through eighth grade, according to a Jan. 12 Highlands press release. Fire damaged the building in 1965, and the students moved to the Williams-Cone School.

Still, the building was salvageable, and the following year re-opened as Topsham Town Hall. It stayed that way for four decades, until construction of the current Topsham Municipal Building.

The Highlands, known for preserving and reusing historic Topsham properties like the Holden Frost and Benjamin Porter houses, saw potential in the former Town Hall and purchased it in 2008.

With two out of the four new apartments already rented, others are seeing that potential as well.

The Highlands has “believed in preserving the past; that’s what you need to do,” Susan Sorg, sales associate with the company, said during a tour of the building Monday. “And this is part of Topsham’s Historic District. So we want to be in step with the neighborhood and with the town.”

While the hallway and staircase evoke the old Town Hall, the building itself feels new. Its rooms have 11-foot ceilings, granite countertops, gas fireplaces, and new appliances, as well as new windows that fit into the same spaces as the originals.

“This doesn’t look like your typical apartment in a retirement community,” Sorg noted.

One former Cone school student touring the renovated space remembered how cold it had been, particularly near the windows, Sorg recalled.

“We’ve taken care of that,” Sorg said, with energy-efficient retrofits, adding that the building is now heated by natural gas.

The units – sized between 1,330 and 1,530 square feet – cost from $3,100-$3,800 a month, and include access to a fitness center, housekeeping, scheduled transportation, dining program and maintenance.

All units have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and their own garage bays in a new building nearby.

One unit on the second floor has a large set of windows that face Elm Street, where horses and buggies gave way to Model-Ts, Sorg pointed out.

But unlike those vehicles, the Olde Town Hall is no longer relegated to the past.

“It’s rehabbed; it’s starting a new life,” she said. “When people move here, they start a new life; they start a new chapter. It’s not the end; it’s the beginning of something new. And that’s what I think this building has to offer.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Olde Town Hall, the newest member of the Highlands retirement community’s complex of historic, rehabilitated buildings in Topsham, opens next month.

Susan Sorg, a sales associate with the Highlands retirement community, in one of Olde Town Hall’s four units, with its 11-foot-tall ceilings.

Windows at Olde Town Hall provide a view of Elm Street in Topsham.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.