Maine Preservation places Camden’s Mary E. Taylor School and Waldo Theatre on its Most Endangered list

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 4:45pm

    YARMOUTH — Every year, the nonprofit Maine Preservation issues its Most Endangered List, designating what it considers threatened historic places and buildings in the state. This year, there are three Midcoast locations: the Mary E. Taylor School on Knowlton Street, in Camden; Waldo Theatre in Waldoboro; and the Wiscasset downtown. 

    “The community has too much to lose historically, socially and economically if this well-built neighborhood anchor is allowed to be demolished,” said the Yarmouth-based Maine Preservation, in its Sept. 5 announcement about placing MET on the list.

    About the Waldo Theatre, Maine Preservation said: “Through strong leadership and the tremendous dedication of board members, Waldo Theatre, Inc., has accomplished a great deal but needs continued community and financial support in order to ensure the reactivation and preservation of this cornerstone of culture and entertainment for Midcoast Maine. 

    The goal of the Most Endangered List  is to boost local efforts and focuses statewide media attention on threatened places.

    Additional Maine locations on the 2017 list include the Frank J. Wood Bridge in Brunswick/Topsham, Bowery Beach Schoolhouse in Cape Elizabeth, Brining Shed in Lubec, and the A.B. Seavey House in Saco.

    Greg Paxton, director of Maine Preservation, said Sept. 6 that the organization keeps its ear to the ground throughout the state to identify historic places that deserve preservation.

    Since 1972, when Maine Preservation was founded, the nonprofit has assisted projects, advocated in Augusta for historic preservation, and helped establish the Maine Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which combines with a federal credit to offer a 45 percent rebate on the rehabilitation cost of commercial and rental properties.

    "Maine’s 2017 Most Endangered Historic Places List illustrates the diverse historic buildings and issues that are critical to the future of communities across our state,” said Paxton, in a news release. “Preservation of key structures is a catalyst for community revitalization, economic development and continued quality of life for the citizens of Maine’s towns and cities. Historic preservation bolstered the state’s economy throughout the recent downturn. To consolidate these gains, we must continue to wisely manage our downtowns, in town neighborhoods and rural historic assets to bolster our tax base and provide a firm foundation for future prosperity and quality of life, as this list illustrates.” 

    Every year, Maine Preservation extends an invitation to list properties on its Most Endangered List.

    The Most Endangered Historic Places List began in 1996 for the purpose of identifying and raising public awareness of preserving endangered and threatened historic properties and materials. Since then, 144 places have been included on the list of which 53 have been saved and 26 are in motion. 

    In 2017, the MET building, which is in line for demolition to make way for a new Camden-Rockport Middle School, rose to placement on the list.

    The nominations are made, sometimes anonymously. Maine Preservation does not identify individuals who suggest the designation.

    Since the November 2016 voter approval of a $25 million bond to build a new school, there have been several community conversations about keeping MET standing and in use.

    Sarah Hansen, of Maine Preservation, said the nonprofit’s Field Service Advisor Chris Closs has visited MET, and has spoken at a School Administrative District 28 board meeting about the feasibility of maintaining MET as a resource, instead of tearing it down.

    Currently, the SAD 28 School Board has set a late autumn deadline for entertaining plans to repurpose MET.

    Maine Preservation also has ideas, and the organization’s thoughts about MET are as follows:

    Mary E. Taylor School  

    The Story

    The 28,200 square foot middle school on Knowlton Street was designed in 1925 by the well-respected Augusta architecture firm of Bunker and Savage and falls under the jurisdiction of the Camden-Rockport School Administrative District 28. It was renamed after Mary E. Taylor in 1957, who served as the school's principal from 1916-1953.

    Many local residents attended school in this original Mary E. Taylor (MET) building, which holds significant importance with the community. The building is in relatively good condition with only minor repairs needed. The major needs for the building include ADA access improvements and updates to codes. Since 1957, the MET building has continually expanded and now contains 122,000 square feet. The original building has been nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

    The Threat

    In 2015, Camden and Rockport voted down a $28 million bond to both construct a new middle school and spend $3 million to rehabilitate the MET building. In June 2017 voters again went to the polls, but the bond had been lowered to $25.2 million and included specific language regarding the demolition of the existing historic school. Public concern about the demolition was eased by assurances from Maria Libby, Superintendent, that despite what the bond stated, rehabilitation of the MET building was still on the table. This time, the bond passed.

    The current design plans for the new school do not include rehabilitation of the MET building; in its place plans call for an activity field. While the school board has stated they are willing to consider viable reuse proposals for the building, they have stipulated that if a private developer rehabilitates the building, they are interested in half of the existing space being used for its offices. Additionally, legal counsel has advised the School Administrative District that they cannot commit to a lease longer than 4 years as a tenant, and 10 years if they act as a landlord. The conditions they have set are such that private development will be extremely cost- prohibitive.

    A preliminary rehabilitation estimate for the building is $3.4 million for the stand-alone use as the School Administrative District offices. The SAD has been talking about the need for new administrative office space for more than a decade, but the school board has now voiced concern regarding the types of people who may be visiting the offices and whether or not this would be a security issue on an active school campus. While controlling access to school property is of paramount importance, throughout Maine there are scores of existing private housing units and other buildings that abut schools and practice fields. The configuration of the MET building on the campus allows for reuse of the building with minimal disruption to the school.

    The Solution

    The Mary E. Taylor School is in good physical condition and demolition costs are expected to run more than $200,000. In addition, the social, environmental and economic opportunity costs of reusing rubble from the building for on-site fill contradict the goal of working together to ensure this historic landmark remains both a functional tribute to quality education, and the encouragement of community sustainability and lasting civic values. This well-built building has had an excellent history of low maintenance costs. Demolition provides a disservice to the concept of re-use and does not set a positive example concerning the SADs vision to ensure sure students are, "working cooperatively and collaboratively."

    In Maine, 14 historic schools have been adapted into housing units since 2008 utilizing the state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. In addition, there are dozens of school reuse examples from other states, including:

    - Sonora, California: historic school building is now the school administrative offices, local arts council and a local radio station
    - Knoxville, Tennesse: senior housing
    - Woodstock, Georgia: satellite technical college campus and technology hub for business startups and students in the former gymnasium
    - Thomasville, Georgia: center for the arts
    - Kansas City, Missouri: multi-use recreation center; assisted living center; adult day care The School Board should heed the calls of the community to pro-actively evaluate the reuse potential of the building, including a broad range of adaptive use solutions. Innumerable communities have buildings and houses that border on school campuses, and the majority have not erected barriers to community members visiting sports practices or other extra-curricular activities. While located on the edge of an active campus, there are numerous options for reuse for the Mary E. Taylor School that will not interfere with or pose safety issues to school campus users. The community has too much to lose historically, socially and economically if this well- built neighborhood anchor is allowed to be demolished.

    Waldo Theatre, c. 1937 Waldoboro

    The Story

    Just north east of the old brick Custom House on Main Street in the village of Waldoboro sits the Waldo Theatre. New York lumber dealer Carroll T. Cooney commissioned the building in 1936, hiring New York theater architect Benjamin Schlanger to design a movie theater for the town and surrounding areas of Midcoast Maine. Opening in 1937 during the depths of the Great Depression, the Waldo provided an inexpensive and dignified escape from the rigors of the time. On the exterior, the two-story brick, steel, and concrete building is Neo-Classical style. The real significance of the theater, however, is in its interior design and construction. Following on his wider-known designs, such as the Cinema I- Cinema II complex in New York, Schlanger’s interior design for the Waldo Theatre suggests minimal Art Deco themes that work alongside modern functional principles of acoustics and viewership. Beside these decorative elements, Schlanger devised an ingenious small application of the “envelope” system of construction, where a space is created between an inner and outer building directing hot air down, cold air up, and a complete change of air every few minutes. The materials used also ensure an essentially fireproof building. Adding to the viewer’s experience was a floor configuration which sloped up instead of down toward the screen to alleviate neck strain, varying seat widths and some seats equipped with headphones for hard-of-hearing patrons.

    The Threat

    The Cooney Family operated the theater until 1957 when they sold the property, after which the building lay vacant for twenty-three years except for an occasional live performance and use as a Masonic meeting hall. In 1980 the theater was purchased by a physician and his wife who began extensive renovations of the building. According to its nomination for the National Register completed in 1986, the interior of the theatre remained unaltered, though the left side annex was partially converted into medical offices. Since 2006 the Waldo has been managed by the nonprofit Waldo Theatre, Inc., though due to lack of funding for programming and general upkeep, it was forced to close its doors once again in the spring of 2014. The building has suffered water damage is in need of a new roof. Moisture infiltration has damaged interior walls.

    These issues must be addressed before any other interior renovations or programming decisions can move forward.

    The Solution

    The past year has brought new leadership to Waldo Theatre, Inc., breathing new life and energy into the quest to reopen this community landmark. A $5,000 grant from Maine Community Foundation for capacity building will allow the group to develop a fundraising plan. A new roof is estimated to cost at least $35,000, but a fundraising goal of $100,000 has been set in order to ensure other immediate rehabilitation costs can be covered. Before it can reopen to the public, additional needs include digital upgrades to the projection system and the development of a sustainable business plan. Through strong leadership and the tremendous dedication of board members, Waldo Theatre, Inc. has accomplished a great deal but needs continued community and financial support in order to ensure the reactivation and preservation of this cornerstone of culture and entertainment for Midcoast Maine. 

    Related stories:

    Camden town, school boards vet process for reviewing MET repurposing proposals

    Owner's representative hired for new Camden-Rockport Middle School construction

    UPDATE: (Will be televised, streamed) Camden-Rockport school board powers up for Knowlton Street overhaul, rebuild

    Give community a chance to brainstorm about MET before tear-down, citizens tell school board

    Camden Select Board hopes to meet with school board Thursday evening over MET future

    Future of Camden's MET building to be discussed at two board meetings, municipal and school

    Maria Libby on middle school project planning and Mary E. Taylor School 

    Supporters of new Camden middle school rally for June 13 polls; residents question need for MET demolition 

    Camden-Rockport Middle School building project forum tonight

    The future of Camden's Mary E. Taylor School. Tear it down? Lease it to another entity?

    $28 million Camden-Rockport Middle School project proceeds to vote

    Opinion: Camden Rockport Middle School project examined

    Letter to the editor: School board responds to Camden Planning Board project concerns

    Camden Planning concerns about middle school project

    Camden-Rockport leaders skeptical of $28 million middle school project

    Read about the March 20 forum: Camden-Rockport board endorses public straw vote: Tear down, rebuild middle school

    What to do with Camden-Rockport Middle School: Tear down, renovate, rebuild?

    Camden-Rockport Middle School concepts floated: ‘Everything in pencil’

    Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at; 207-706-6657