CAMDEN — With the completion of Rose Hall (formerly known as the Mary E. Taylor building) next to the new Camden/Rockport Middle School at 34 Knowlton Street, in Camden, its occupancy has begun.
Recently, Five Town CSD and School Administrative District 28 Superintendent Maria Libby, gave a tour of the renovated building.
The first words out of her mouth were, “lucky,” and she explained why.
“Because we were in a less than ideal space for a very long time prior to this move, “she said. “This space is a significant upgrade from that space and it was just really well done. It’s a beautiful space.”
The central offices were formerly, and for decades, in the Bus Barn on the Knowlton Street campus.
“The space we were in was very much like a garage and lacked any sense of aesthetic appeal,” she said. “It was not a conducive work environment and this space makes a tremendous difference.”
In fact, the Bus Barn had been designed as a garage for the school buses, before it was converted to office space, for lack of central office space anywhere else on the various school district-owned property.
Rose Hall was overhauled after the voters of Camden and Rockport decided to keep the old brick building in public possession.
The offices have a community feel, said Libby.
“The superintendent's office and the people associated with it, and the business office all open up into a common space in the center so we all come together,” she said. “It’s really facilitated a lot more interpersonal interaction.”
There are four floors, including the basement.
The top floor (second floor) is dedicated to the superintendent and assistant superintendent’s office, the business office and special education.
On the first, or main level, are the Zenith classrooms, which is the high school’s alternative education program, and the daytime adult education classrooms.
The ground floor and basement are for storage.
“It’s pretty rough down there,” said Libby. “The cost to renovate that space was well out of our budget. And the only thing it’s really suitable for at this point is storage. There are no bathrooms down there. There are no telephones or infrastructure down there. The finish is very rough.”
While the central office personnel and Zenith students have vacated the Bus Barn, the district’s transportation director and administrative assistant remain in offices there.
“We hope to do a minor renovation to the bus barn for another bay,” she said. “We need a bay for machinery. We kind of have a little village of shanties between the bus barn and the middle school that house a lot of equipment for the middle school and we’d like to get all that into the Bus Barn.”
She added: “Then we would like to redesign the space a little bit to more accommodate the adult ed administrative offices and the transportation department. Just to make it a more functional space and then the plan for the other half is for it to become the teen center.”
How did the Mary E. Taylor building’s name transition to Rose Hall?
“This was brought up at a board meeting maybe a year ago,” said Libby. “The board felt it would be appropriate to rename the building since it was being repurposed. And that is a common time to rename a building. It was no longer going to be a middle school like it had been under that name.”
Libby said the name was chosen to honor Keith Rose, who was a long-time facilities director for SAD 28 and the CSD.
“He contributed an incredible amount of expertise to the district, particularly in the realm of sustainability, energy efficiency, and Yankee ingenuity,” said Libby. “A lot in what we can boast about in terms of our being green is thanks to Keith Rose. The solar panels on the high school, the wind turbine, the thermal-sewer heating system for the middle school, the list goes on and on for his contribution and the board thought it would be appropriate the name the building after him.”
The renovation of Rose Hall began after the construction of the new middle school was completed.
Libby said the completion and delay with moving in was due to the pandemic, worker shortages and supply chain issues.
The original bond to renovate the old school was $4.9 million. Libby said the districts are getting towards the end of the project and have faced unexpected expenses.
“There were window sill replacements that cost almost $200,000,” she said. “It was an unexpected cost that had to be done, but we wound up being creative to pay for some things that we didn’t have money in the budget for. We ended up using some of the money that was ear-marked for furniture to go towards the windows. We had to figure out how to deal with unexpected things, but we did that successfully.”
If all goes well, $10,000 to $20,000 will remain in the coffers.
An open house for the public will be scheduled, she said.
“All the furniture has not arrived,” she said. “We just moved in last week and there are things that have to get done. Personally, I would love to wait until everything is done, so maybe sometime this summer.’
Libby said the building is functioning as planned, and believes it will help productivity.
Earlier in the process, Libby did not support renovating the MET (Rose Hall) building.
“I say that now because I believed at the time the community could build something for less money to get us out of the Bus Barn,” she said. “And that said, I feel special to have our offices in this space that was renovated in this building that meant so much to so many people in our community.”
Libby once walked the same halls when she was in middle school, herself.
“At the end of the day the community decided to spend the money on the building,” she said. “We did the project; it’s beautiful, it’s functional, it’s going to serve the community for a long time and I am very proud to be here in a building that meant so much to a lot of people, and has been preserved.”