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Harpswell leases former school building to charter school

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Harpswell leases former school building to charter school

HARPSWELL — A public school that closed in 2011 will become the home of the region's first charter school after a lease was signed last week.

The Board of Selectmen on July 11 signed the one-year lease with Harpswell Coastal Academy for the former West Harpswell School building.

The agreement could lead to a sale by the end of the year.

John D'Anieri, headmaster of HCA, said "it feels great" to finally have a building in place for the charter school.

"(The negotiations) really felt like a collaborative effort," he said. "It was a positive conversation the whole way through."

D'Anieri said for HCA's first year of school, sixth- and ninth-grade classes will use four of eight available classrooms and the gymnasium. About 60 students from the region are expected to attend the first school year, which begins this September.

The charter school will expand to more grades over the next few years until it serves grades 6-12 with a projected 280 students by the 2017-2018 school year.

HCA originally sought a three-year lease of the Basin Point Road building. Residents at this year's Town Meeting approved a warrant article that allows the town to lease the building for multiple years, instead of one.  

But D'Anieri said the one-year option with an opportunity to purchase the building in the future fell more in line with HCA's long-term plans.

"It enables us to move the conversation toward potential ownership sooner," he said.

According to the lease agreement, the town and HCA have a Dec. 31 deadline to work out a sale of the building. Until then, the town has agreed to not market the building to other tenants.

If the Board of Selectmen approves a sale, the deal would ultimately have to be approved by Town Meeting next March.

Ash Point Community Library, which is now in the building, will remain there for the "foreseeable future," D'Anieri said.

The town, including its Recreation Department, will continue to be able to use the building during the summer, on weekends and evenings, according to the lease. Other groups seeking use of the building would have to contact D'Anieri.

"We do see it as a community center," D'Anieri said, "so we do hope it gets other uses in the future."

Under the agreement that is retroactive to July 1, HCA will pay the town $20,000 in monthly installments that begin in August and run through May 2014.

The town must transfer all rental payments to a special revenue account for the purpose of funding improvements and modifications to the school building.

"The building has a number of issues that were present when the building was turned over to the town," D'Anieri said. "It's a shared agreement between the town and HCA to make sure that the building is habitable without the town incurring unbudgeted costs."

By Aug. 15, the town must also complete general heating and ventilation work for the building, estimated to cost about $5,900.

In addition, the town will also improve the building's windows, doors and other features if rental payments can cover their costs.

If the rental payments don't cover the extra costs, the town's obligation to complete the work will terminate, unless the school can help with the costs.

The town will also maintain a reserve account of $9,400 for any work on the building's gymnasium floor. If those funds aren't used, they will move back to the town's general accounts.

The town may contribute up to $10,000 to the building's operating costs if funds from a $40,000 appropriation from this year's Town Meeting are available by the end of the year.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said about $11,000 of that has been spent so far because of the building's minimal use this year.

HCA will otherwise be responsible for operating costs.

The charter school will also be responsible for some building improvements, including fire alarm system and accessibility improvements. The work is estimated to cost about $5,100 and must be done by Aug. 15.

In addition, HCA will be responsible for any repair and maintenance costs under $1,000. Otherwise, repair work will be referred to the town, and the town will then determine how to proceed based on the cost.

Residents voted to close West Harpswell School in 2011 after SAD 75 proposed it would save the district money.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.