CAMDEN — The Camden Select Board has officially offered to meet with the Camden-Rockport Select Board Thursday evening, July 13, to talk about whether ideas might be explored to keep the Mary E. Taylor school building from being demolished.
Select Board Chairman John French suggested July 11 to SAD 28 Superintendent Maria Libby that the Select Board attend the Camden-Rockport School Board meeting. Libby said she would ask the school board chairman, Matt Dailey, if that would be possible.
“Let us be part of that discussion, and we’d love to go,” said French, closing an hour-long workshop of the Select Board, and which was convened specifically to discuss MET.
The focus on MET has been growing, as the town and school separately address interest raised by citizens who want to explore repurposing MET. The 1925-built brick school has been destined for demolition as part of the school district’s $26 million plan to overhaul the Knowlton Street Camden-Rockport Middle School complex.
Voters approved the expenditure at the June town meeting polls, endorsing a project that includes tearing down the entire middle school and constructing a new building.
At the July 11 meeting, the town’s Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee recommended that the Select Board appoint an ad hoc work group to look at options to keep MET standing.
“We recognize that the School Board is revisiting their own potential uses for that building and we fully support their efforts to do so,” said CEDAC member Robin McIntosh. “However, they may determine that this is not feasible. Since MET is a community asset built with taxpayer dollars, CEDAC believes that the community should explore whether there are other uses that could could be of benefit before the ultimate decision is made to tear it down.”
The ad hoc group, consisting of representatives from CEDAC, the School Board and/or building committee, Camden Planning Board, Select Board, Historic Resources Committee, as well as an architect, the town’s community development director, and community volunteers, would report back by October on on how MET could be used and produce recommendations.
At the July 11 Select Board workshop, McIntosh pointed out that the plans for the new middle school call for a playing field to occupy the existing MET space.
She cited possible economic advantages of keeping MET available for business and school administrative offices, noting that the building was within one half mile of the downtown Camden, “which makes it more appealing.”
Placing MET on the historic register could produce tax credits, and it might be attractive for museum and other educational uses.
CEDAC has talked about ways to bring more conferences to the area, said McIntosh, to help Camden strengthen its economy.
“We’re a creative town with a lot of creative minds here,” she said. “This is an opportunity to be creative.”
Select Board member Alison McKellar asked if there was a way for other interests to collaborate with the school district to create space for business incubators and artist studios.
Former SAD 28 School Board member John Lewis, who lives on Knowlton Street, said the voters had approved the middle school project with the intention of tearing down MET.
“I can’t imagine having commercial space on Knowlton Street,” he said. “I think the question has already been settled. I don’t think you can pull that out of what has been voted on here.”
But Camden resident Eric Kangas disputed Lewis’ contention that voters approved MET’s demolition at the polls.
“ I was told that the vote to say yes was not a vote to demolish MET,’ he said. “I changed my vote because of that.”
He suggested renovating MET and putting school administrative offices there.
“it’s a win-win situation,” he said.
Camden resident Stuart Smith, who formerly served on school board for 15 years, said he, too: “voted in favor of middle school project because I was told it did not involve tearing down MET. I was told it would be discussed later on.”
He described the historic building renovations that his family had done or historic buildings they had acquired, including 16 Bay View Street, and the Shepherd Block in Rockport.
“MET is a perfect building for historic tax credits,” said Smith. “You can do some different things. This is a tremendous oportuntiy for MET. I would encourage the boards to take a step back. There’s no urgency to tear down this building. Give it a chance and look at it.”
Select Board member Bob Falciani agreed.
“There’s time,” he said. “This is not rocket science. Get a committee together.”
While the Select Board touched on the idea of establishing an ad hoc committee, Libby, who was also at the meeting, requested that the town wait for the school board to discuss the issue July 13.
“It is the school board’s jurisdiction over what happens with the building,” she said. “For you guys to form a committee would be presumptious. Wait for the meeting and weigh in on Thursday.”
The Select Board agreed to meet with the school board, and if that wasn’t going to work, the board said it would address the issue on July 18.
“It’s going to be a long process,” said French. “We look forward to working together. We just want to save a beautiful building.”
The school board meeting will be held July 13, at 6 p.m., in the Camden-Rockport Middle School cafeteria. It will not be streamed nor televised.
The agenda is as follows:
1. Call to Order
2. Discussion of the Future of the MET Building and Possible Board Action a. Review of Known Facts (attached)
b. Consideration of Possible Options – Pros/Cons
- Renovate building for District (and possible other) use – November Referendum
- Transfer of ownership to town with restrictions
- Sale to private entity with restrictions
- Salvage parts of MET, but demolish the building
c. Possible Next Steps
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 207-706-6657