Town weighs future of West Harpswell School

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HARPSWELL — With a decision on whether to take ownership of West Harpswell School only a month away, residents met Wednesday to discuss possible uses of the building.

Voters will decide at a special Town Meeting on Aug. 23 if they want the town to acquire the school property from School Administrative District 75. The school closed in June, several months after the town voted not to pay the district to keep it open.

If the town decides to accept the school, it will have to pay $25,000 to SAD 75 to cover the costs of maintaining the building through March 2012. After that, the town will be responsible for maintenance and residents will have to decide what to do with the property.

If the town votes against taking ownership, the school will remain property of the school district, which can dispose of it as it sees fit. If SAD 75 sells the school, the town will not receive any direct profits.

Hope Hilton, who sits on the West Harpswell School Re-Use Task Force, Wednesday said the building would probably sell for around $200,000.

Although the upcoming vote will not decide what to do with the school, residents at Wednesday’s meeting brainstormed possible reuses for the building. The town could either sell the school, lease it, or lease part of it and keep the rest as town property.

The task force has been meeting with members of affordable and elderly housing organizations, like Volunteers of America and the Brunswick Housing Authority, to measure their interest in the property. Both have said the school could be renovated into a multi-unit dwelling that would allow Harpswell to continue to use the gymnasium.

At an previous forum, residents suggested turning the school into a community center, day-care center, athletic facilities, or leasing part of the building to a private entity like a school, restaurant or group of artists.

Many of the residents who attended Wednesday’s meeting leaned towards keeping the school.

“I can’t see any advantages in not taking (the school),” said Elizabeth Davis, who sits on the task force.

Tom Allen wondered if made sense to hang on to the building until the economy recovers, noting that it could be worth more in the future.

A public hearing on the issue will be held in the second week of August, which will be the last opportunity to discuss the proposal in an open forum before the vote.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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