Historic status of USM gallery building in question

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GORHAM — The national historical recognition of the University of Southern Maine Art Gallery building on the campus could be in jeopardy.

The university failed to meet a Maine Historic Preservation Commission deadline last week for restoration work to be completed. Restoration was aimed to rectify a mismanaged renovation of the building from the historical perspective several years ago.

Facing Gorham’s College Avenue, the building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior, was built in 1821. A university renovation of the landmark was found in 2014 to have stripped away some significant historical details, leading to a public outcry and a review by the state preservation commission, which oversees administration of the national register in Maine.

The commission gave the university 36 months to complete the restoration work. But Kirk Mohney, commission director, said in an email Oct. 15 to the American Journal that the university hasn’t reported back about the restoration.

“It is the commission’s understanding that the restoration was to be accomplished by Oct. 13, 2018,” Mohney wrote.

University spokesman Robert Stein in an email Tuesday said the university has spent nearly $500,000 in the past couple of years on the gallery’s restoration.

“The only piece remaining to keep the gallery listed on the National Register is the reinstallation of the window sashes,” Stein said. “We are now exploring the costs and timing …”

Stein said the university would contact Mohney to discuss the matter.

The once privately owned building was used by the town for decades as a meeting hall. When the town no longer needed it, heirs of a Gorham benefactor, Toppan Robie, gave it to Gorham State Teachers College, the USM forerunner, in 1961 for a $1.

The art gallery is one of several landmarks on the Gorham campus.

A $400,000 building renovation began in 2013 before the current university president, Glenn Cummings, was appointed in June 2015.

A Gorham resident in 2014 faulted the renovation when windows, moldings and some hardware were removed from the historic building. Much of the vintage clapboards were stripped and discarded with plans to install vinyl siding. Under public pressure, university officials scrapped its siding plans and installed new, wooden clapboards to replace the old.

In September 2015, Cummings had reviewed the art gallery exterior with Mohney and Christi Mitchell, assistant director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. After that meeting, Cummings vowed to make the building historically accurate.

It’s unclear this week how the missed deadline could impact the art gallery’s status on the national register.

According to information posted on the Maine commission’s website, “All properties listed in the National Register must meet the criteria established by the National Park Service.”

The criteria includes ensuring that listed properties are “significant, within the areas of architecture, archaeology, engineering, culture or history, and that they retain their historic designs, materials, workmanship and sense of time and place.”

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email rlowell@keepmecurrent.com

The University of Southern Maine Art Gallery on the Gorham campus is pictured Tuesday. The town’s Civil War monument is in the foreground.

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