Informational event produces no firm plans, but offers some clarity

‘Future’ of former Belfast high school up for grabs

Posted:  Friday, June 13, 2014 - 2:30pm
Share: 
Jim Curry, center, talks to a group of 25 people at the former Crosby School in Belfast about selling the building. Curry and Chris Yedibalian, left, represented National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, the owner and most recent occupant of the building. At right are floor plans and a figurine of NTWH founder Brother Rick Curry. (Photo by Ethan Andrews)

Story Location:
Church Street
Belfast  Maine  04915
United States

BELFAST - A group of 25 people met at the former Crosby School on Wednesday under the general premise of discussing the future of the building. The event was organized by representatives of the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, the current owner and most recent user of the building.

The status of the former Belfast high school has been vague during the past year. Signs went up about six months ago advertising the building as “available,” but the only other piece of information on the sign pointed to a website that boldly disclaimed any commercial motivation. It was “for information purposes only, and does not constitute either an offer, invitation, inducement or a solicitation to sell the Property.”

On Wednesday, Jim Curry, cousin of NTWH founder Brother Rick Curry acknowledged the mixed messaged but said the organization had been hoping an investor would come forward with a mission similar to that of NTWH. 

“We’d been open-minded about it,” he said, “but we’re starting to feel like we’re in the fourth quarter of, I don’t want to call it a game, but this process.”

Curry gave a brief description of why NTWH left Belfast. After 9/11, he said, donations were hard to come by. In response, he said, Brother Rick Curry narrowed his focus to helping disabled veterans and moved operations to Washington D.C.. Curry’s latest endeavor, called Dog Tag Bakery, uses a working bakery as a framework for teaching veterans all aspects of running a business.

Chris Yedibalian, business manager for the bakery, appeared at the event in Belfast on Wednesday. Curry said he and Yedibalian have fielded 40-50 requests for information since putting signs up on the building. 

“We’ve had a lot of people interested,” he said. “Some of them are here right now.”

Attendance to the event was by invitation only. The list included local business people, heads of nonprofits, city officials and several members of the press, among others.

Mayor Walter Ash asked if the NTWH spinoff would consider expanding its veterans programs to the Belfast building.

“I keep hearing that you’re deeply committed to veterans,” he said. “We have a lot of veterans here.”

During the evening, it emerged that local veterans groups were among two kinds of organizations have expressed strong interest in the building, the other being theater groups in need of performance space.

Jim Roberts, Commander of VFW Post 3108 in Belfast said his organization has been in discussion with the American Legion, AmVets and Disabled American Veterans about joining together, possibly under the roof of Crosby. The groups, which range from Rockland to Bucksport, have assets he said, but not necessarily enough to buy a 36,000 square foot building, large sections of which they wouldn’t need.

To this end Roberts said he could envision the veterans groups using the boarding rooms and offices on the upper floors. The rest he said would be “open to the public” in the sense of having other groups or businesses make use of the ground floor, including the two theater spaces. 

That would work out perfectly for local theater groups, according to representatives of several on hand Wednesday.

Jason Bannister, artistic director of the Midcoast Actors’ Studio, said the semi-professional theater group he founded three years ago has put on productions at Troy Howard Middle School, where he teaches, and several other small venues. When he first saw the Crosby School, he said, he was blown away that this kind of theater facility existed right in downtown Belfast.

“[Jim Curry] gave me a tour. I drooled,” Bannister said. “I said, ‘I’d love to work in here.’”

But neither he nor any other interested groups has had to money to do it alone, and Curry said on Wednesday that the leasing any part of the building for individual events was not worth the cost of keeping it ready to use. 

Curry said there is not a firm asking price yet, but he threw out a ballpark number of $55 per square foot, or a little less than $2 million.

He supported the idea of several entities working together inside the building but said those groups would have to figure out the details on their own. He also lauded the city’s recent move to consider the Crosby School for contract rezoning, which would allow a wider range of uses than exist today.

“We keep coming back to coming back to that,” he said. “We think its highest and best use is as a mixed use property.”

Several attendants noted the seemingly immaculate condition of the building. The former school was found in an independent assessment by the city several years ago to have mold problems. Curry said the problem was limited to the smaller theater and the basement and that a lot of mitigation work had been done in the interim. Recently, local businessman David Crabiel, has served as caretaker for the building.

“It’s amazing the way rumors spread,” said Breanna Pinkham Bebb, executive director of the downtown business group Our Town Belfast. “I’d heard the whole building is just mold.”

Interest was evident among a number of parties, but as someone joked, nobody was getting out their checkbook right then and there.

“The nearly $2 million price tag is the only thing that’s holding a lot of us back,” said Pinkham Bebb. 


Ethan Andrews can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com