Residents urge Harpswell to take ownership of closed elementary school

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HARPSWELL — Residents urged the town on Aug. 4 to accept the West Harpswell School from School Administrative District 75, and offered ideas for what to do with the building.

They spoke during a Board of Selectmen’s public hearing. Voters at an Aug. 23 special Town Meeting will decide whether to take ownership of the school, which closed in June after a referendum to keep it open failed.

If the town takes the school, it must pay $25,000 to SAD 75 to cover the building’s maintenance costs through the March 2012 Town Meeting. The town will then assume responsibility for maintaining it, and residents will choose what to do with the property.

If voters reject that option, SAD 75 will retain ownership of the school and decide its fate. Harpswell will not receive any direct profit if SAD 75 sells the school.

Howard Nannen, who chairs the Harpswell Community Housing Trust, encouraged residents to accept in the school for development in part as affordable apartments for senior citizens. He said the facility could also be used as a  community center.

Nannen noted that Harpswell’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan identified a significant shortage of affordable housing for renters, elderly households and first-time home buyers.

He recommended a market analysis and survey, so the town can update its information. A feasibility study should also be done to determine the school’s adaptability for housing, approximate cost of construction, financing options, economic feasibility and multi-use sustainability, he said.

The town’s acceptance of the school enables it “to control the future of this property,” Nannen said. “Should it remain with SAD 75, it will probably be sold, and the town loses an opportunity to manage a valuable future asset for the benefit of its residents.”

Kay Ogrodnik of Hawthorne Lane echoed sentiments that Harpswell should not let go of the property, calling it “very valuable.”

“Even if we wanted to sell it, we should have the profit, rather than having the school district have all that,” she said.

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