HAMPDEN, Maine — The SAD 22 board of directors will hold another public forum Tuesday evening to discuss options for reusing the existing Hampden Academy once a new facility is built.
The ongoing discussion has exposed a sharp divide between school and municipal officials, although the two sides have been working more closely lately to find a mutually beneficial solution.
Town Council Chairman Matthew Arnett wrote in a recent Hampden town newsletter that significant progress has been made in defining the town’s and the school board’s interests. School district officials have said they want to retain an educational use that could generate revenue to offset SAD 22’s overall education costs.
“I am among the town councilors who believe the best way to support the educational needs of SAD 22 students is to add to the property tax base of Hampden through private redevelopment of the academy property by the creation of a vital town center,” Arnett said.
Tuesday’s public session, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Hampden Academy library, will feature a number of agenda items for discussion, including:
ä An analysis of partial demolition options and environmental considerations.
ä A market analysis involving a possible partnership with the University of Maine.
ä A presentation by Knowledge Transfer Alliance, a broad collaboration of UMaine departments, business assistance agencies, local community and economic development districts, and private sector representatives.
ä A review of state law governing reuse of public schools.
Last year, voters approved a $51.6 million construction project for a new Hampden Academy on land adjacent to the town’s existing middle and elementary schools between U.S. Route 202 and Route 9.
Site work has been completed and construction is under way, with a completion date expected 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 in SAD 22.
Anytime a school closes, the district and town have to decide what to do with the soon-to-be-vacated educational facility. The host town usually has the right of first refusal, largely because it provides numerous public services to the school at no cost and the school is a tax-exempt property.
Earlier this year, the SAD 22 board of directors voted to retain the existing Hampden Academy for educational use once a new high school opens in the fall of 2012. Some town officials were upset by the decision because they believe that the school district failed to offer the property to the town first.
Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard recently surveyed more than 40 school districts throughout the state that have closed in the last five years and found that more than 75 percent were offered to the community in which the school is located.