HAMPDEN, Maine — The completion of a new Hampden Academy is still nearly two years away, but discussions about what to do with the old school are heating up.
A group that includes members of the SAD 22 board of directors and others representing the towns of Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh made the decision recently to retain the existing school for educational purposes rather than sell the property.
“It’s really an irreplaceable asset to the three communities,” said Peter Buzzini, a SAD 22 board member who chairs the ad hoc reuse committee. “There are some great educational uses and other potential community uses that we can explore.”
The biggest idea at the moment, Buzzini said, is the possibility of working with the University of Maine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation to create a learning center.
“We’ve looked at a number of areas like new media, alternative energy and, of course, science and math,” he said. “There is great precedence for innovative schools and we have already seen a rise in tuition students to Hampden Academy, especially since we decided to build a new school.”
SAD 22 Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest said the discussions are still in their infancy, but everyone involved agrees that it’s a rare opportunity. Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard said the town is still involved in possible collaboration as well.
“It’s about finding the best use of the space, not just for Hampden, but for Winterport and Newburgh as well,” Buzzini said. “We have to be sensitive to other communities’ needs and desires.”
Buzzini said SAD 22 directors and officials have been looking for similar situations in the state but so far haven’t found many examples. Another possibility that has been discussed is asking Eastern Maine Development Corp. to help with a feasibility study for possible educational reuse.
Construction of the new $51.6 million Hampden Academy, which was approved by voters last fall, began earlier this year and is expected to be completed ahead of the fall 2012 school year. The project includes $45.4 million in funding from the state Department of Education and $6.2 million that will be paid for by taxpayers in the three towns.
Since the project was approved, SAD 22 also has created an education foundation to help raise funds for educational purposes.