CAMDEN and ROCKPORT — Voters in Camden and Rockport will consider at the polls Nov. 6 whether to spend $4.9 million on rehabilitating the 1925-built Mary E. Taylor School building, on Knowlton Street, in Camden. If they don’t approve Question 1 on the SAD 28 warrant, the brick school will be demolished and its footprint converted to a sports practice field, according to the superintendent.
The question on the School Administrative District 28 (Camden-Rockport K-8) warrant asks voters if they want SAD 28 to issue bonds or notes not to exceed $4.9 million, “to renovate, improve, and equip the MET in order to preserve and repurpose that building for multipurpose use, as described below, which bonds would be in addition to the $25,200,000 in bonds already issued for the new middle school project; and to modify the currently authorized new middle school project, as described below.”
This story has been updated concerning the origin of the mail campaign to keep MET standing
The school board approved the bond language for the warrant, and added: “If this question is approved, the school board would (1) modify the currently authorized new middle school project to keep the MET building intact; and (ii) renovate and repurpose the MET building for multipurpose use, as a separate project for the middle school project. Multi-purpose would include community, school, municipal, nonprofit and/or business purposes.”
On Oct. 30, SAD 28 Superintendent Maria Libby sent an email to all parents in the district:
“SAD 28 has an important vote coming up next week on the November 6 ballot regarding the Mary E. Taylor building. The school district has placed this item on the ballot in response to community interest and desire that taxpayers have the final say in determining whether the MET is torn down or is renovated. On the ballot for approval is a $4.9 million bond to renovate the building for mixed use — two floors would house some functions currently in the Bus Barn (the Central Office and the high school Alternative Education program) and one floor would be leased out. If the question fails, the building will be torn down and additional athletic fields will be built in its place. In that case, the Five Town CSD would likely pursue alternative options for the Central Office/Alternative Ed program to be located on the high school campus in the near future. It is important for parents to have a voice, so I encourage you to make sure to vote!”
Maine Historic Preservation Commission comments
On Oct. 23, the Maine Historic Preservation Commission sent a letter to Camden Select Board member Alison McKellar and SAD 28 Superintendent Maria Libby, according to an Oct. 10 email that circulated to members of the Camden Historic Resources Committee.
The email included a letter from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which reported that it considered MET eligible for review for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Commission, represented by Michael Goebel-Bain, National Register and Survey Coordinator and historian, had visited Camden to assess several buildings for possible inclusion on the National Register.
A subsequent letter, signed by Goebel-Bain, noted that the, “1925 school with the added 1930 floor is potentially eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places if the northwest additions are removed. Because we lack information about the additions, we are suggesting their demolition or retention, but in answer [to] your hypothetical question: if those additions were not present, we believe a review of the remaining building would determine it eligible.”
(See attached PDF for the complete letter).
The National Register, according to its website, was “authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966,” and “the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.”
Being on the register qualifies buildings for tax credits and federal grants for historic preservation, when funds are available.
The road to this Nov. 2018 warrant article has been long and arduous for the community, and there are strong opinions expressed for saving or razing the building.
The MET brick school building, on Knowlton Street, was constructed in 1925 and last fall, the nonprofit Maine Historic Preservation placed it on its 2017 list of the state’s most endangered historic places.
Its proposed demolition was originally tied to the construction project taking place now at the Camden-Rockport Middle School parcel on Knowlton Street. That involves the current tearing down the existing middle school complex and building a new school.
However, following public outcry in June 2017 concerning the demolition of specifically MET, the school board voted entertain alternative proposals to keep it standing.
The board set a Nov. 30, 2017 deadline for those proposals and real estate developer Michael Mullins submitted a plan. (Read: Real estate developer submits proposal to repurpose Camden's Mary E. Taylor school)
Mullins had stepped forward with an outline for the adaptive use of MET, and either buying or leasing the 28,200-square-foot space. Mullins had said he would establish a community workspace there.
Instead, and after a lengthy public meeting where Mullins presented his plan for MET, the board decided to move ahead with pursuing its own ideas for keeping MET standing.
In January, the board voted: “that the superintendent instruct Oak Point Associates to proceed with a zoning change and a bid alternate for the current middle school project that would secure the MET building and allow the district to proceed with an MET multipurpose building project, if approved by the district voters as an amendment to the current middle school project; that the superintendent be instructed to request from Oak Point Associates a design budget for the concept work, including independent cost estimation, necessary to submit the MET multipurpose building project to the voters; that the superintendent be authorized to select, subject to approval of this board, an independent cost estimation firm to prepare an estimate of costs to design and construct renovations and improvements to the MET building for use as a multipurpose building by the district and possible other occupants; and that the superintendent be authorized to initiate and RFP process to seek an architectural firm for the MET multipurpose building project.”
The MET Repurposing Committee was created by the SAD 28 School Board in February 2018.
At its March 21, 2018 board meeting, SAD 28 members unanimously (8 to 0) agreed that: “the property is too valuable to the school district to lose ownership. The Board has a vested interest in holding onto the property in order to best serve the educational needs of our students now and in the future,” according to meeting minutes.
The matter had come up given the petition that was circulating to move ownership of the MET building back to the Town of Camden.
“Upon motion by Matt Dailey and second by Lynda Chilton, the Board resolved that it is in the best long-term interest of the school district and the community for the district to retain ownership of the full Middle School campus,” the minutes concluded.
The school board expressed interest in relocating administrative offices and the alternative high Zenith program to the upper floors of MET and then leasing the basement floor to enterprise.
The Repurposing Committee was tasked with producing an MET concept, with the help of Tyler Barter, of Oak Point Associates, the Biddeford-based company that has been retained by SAD 28 since 2013 to first help conceive of a new middle school plan, and then design and engineer the new $32 million middle school.
SAD 28 was to pay Oak Point an additional $40,000 to help create a plan for MET, an expenditure that is included in the 2018-2019 SAD 28 budget.
On Sept. 19, 2018, at a regularly scheduled board meeting, the board voted to place the matter before voters in November.
Having determined the degree of renovation required, the committee directed Oak Point Associates to develop a workable renovation plan. The district hired an independent cost estimator, Bruce Sanford of Conestco, in Raymond, to compare pricing with Oak Point’s figures. The cost to renovate is estimated at $4.9 million.
There are several properties in Camden already on the Register, including:
Camden Great Fire Historic District
Camden Amphitheatre and Public Library
Curtis Island Light
Camden Yacht Club
Norumbega Carriage House
Schooner Stephen Taber
Public sentiment on MET
While members of the Camden Historic Resources Committee and other citizens have advocated for keeping the MET building standing in letters and opinion pieces, some turned to to a mail campaign.
On Nov 1., residents in Camden and Rockport received in their mailboxes a mailing that urged voters to approve the SAD warrant article.
The mailing was the initiative of a group of Rockport and Camden citizens, said Tyler Smith, of Camden, who worked on it, as well.
“The goal of the mailer is to get our voters to research on the MET vote and make an educated decision,” said Smith. “I can’t point enough to the great analysis done by Mike Sabatini in his Penbaypilot article.”
The mailer reads: “Vote Yes on SAD 28 Question 1. The alternative education program for the high school (Zenith) is currently at capacity and desperately needs the space this building will provide. Help our at-risk students succeed by giving them the opportunities and facilities they deserve.
“Renovation is more cost effective than funding a new offsite building to house the zenith classrooms and superintendent office.
“Don’t demolish this historic building and let any more students get turned away from our Zenith program and fall through the cracks.”
On Nov. 1, SAD 28 Chairman Matt Dailey, wrote a letter to the editor saying: “Please be advised that the materials distributed for the ‘Save the MET’ campaign were produced and funded completely independently of SAD 28. The district was unaware of the mailer and cannot verify the accuracy of its contents. No taxpayer money was used to create and distribute the yard signs, mailers or any other campaign materials.”
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at email@example.com; 207-706-6657