Gristmill plan for empty jail awaits debate

Posted Sept. 09, 2008, at 9:05 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — An update and discussion between the county commissioners and Amber Lambke, a Skowhegan community activist, about her proposal for purchasing the old Somerset County Jail has been postponed from this afternoon.

Lambke, who lives in Skowhegan and is the organizer of the local farmers market and annual KNEADING conference, made her proposal on May 4, offering $15,000 — the price of the brokerage commission. She has proposed a gristmill at the jail along with an onsite mill store and bakery, as well as space for other artisans.

“I have already been approached by an interested radio station, quilter, potters, painters, art supply retailer and outdoor theater performers who are interested in utilizing jail space,” she said.

She said she would invest $260,000 immediately in building improvements, including replacement of windows, installation of a sprinkler system to meet fire codes, and conversion of the oil furnace to burn wood pellets.

She has partnered with Michael Scholz, an artisan brick-oven baker, who grows and mills his own heritage variety of wheat for commercial bread baking.

“After a discussion with the realtor for the jail this morning, a decision was made to postpone discussion of the jail in the interest of allowing time for us to prepare a formal proposal and offer for the commissioners’ review, which will aid cooperative negotiations,” Lambke said Tuesday.

The update had been scheduled after a number of people pressured the commissioners last month about Lambke’s proposal, which had been submitted in June, and asked why no decision had been made. Dozens of letters of support have been sent to the commissioners by advocates for Lambke’s proposal.

The old jail, built in 1897 and renovated in 1984, is a 14,000-square-foot facility and is expected to be vacated later this fall when the new jail in Madison is opened. It has been for sale since May.

According to Lambke’s business plan, the gristmill “will foster relationships with local organic farmers in central Maine to increase the production of wheat, oats and other small grains for milling into flour, cereals, and value added products using modern stone milling equipment.”

Lambke’s plan lists the goals of the business as:

ä Create a successful economic enterprise in Skowhegan by capitalizing upon marketplace voids.

ä Create infrastructure critical to Central Maine’s revival of a small grain economy.

ä Produce high-quality nutritious flour, bread and cereals.

ä Rehabilitate and reuse a viable building in the heart of the downtown, creating a pleasurable aesthetic, economic revitalization and reduced urban sprawl.

ä Preserve green space, produce agricultural products that lend themselves to quality food marketing, enhance livable communities and Skowhegan’s sense of place.

ä Create 12 new jobs in the first year of operation.

Lambke said “A gristmill facility to store, clean and process grain would fill a void for central Maine farmers, bakers and food consumers. Trucking grain from the West currently drives up the cost of grain and products made with grain. By establishing the Skowhegan Grist Mill, Michael and I will revive the sustainable grain production known to Maine a century ago.”

Lambke’s proposal suggests that the gristmill will use the jail cafeteria and commercial kitchen as a cafe and mill store.

Former cell quarters could be rented to artists as residential, classroom and retail spaces with the help of the Wesserunsset Arts council, with support from the Maine Crafts Association

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Mid-Maine