ELLSWORTH, Maine — A school that has served several generations of schoolchildren is slated to be demolished later this month to make room for a park that city officials say will provide much-needed green space near downtown.
But before the Dr. Charles C. Knowlton School comes down, former students and local residents will have one last chance to stroll the hallways and peak into classrooms during a special open house of sorts for the closed school on Sept. 17.
“It’s a chance for people to take a walk through, get one final view and take pictures, if they want,” said Ellsworth City Manager Michelle Beal.
Built around mid-century, the Knowlton School housed kindergartners through third graders until those classes transferred to nearby Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, which opened in the fall of 2010.
Demolition of the Knowlton School — located on State Street not far from downtown Ellsworth — will likely begin the week of Sept. 19, Beal said. During a recent meeting, city council members awarded a $72,000 contract to R. F. Jordan to tear down the school, level the land and seed it.
Removal of the school complex is a key step toward local residents’ and city officials’ vision for a new, multi-use park in an area of Ellsworth that could become a community “campus” catering to young and old.
“I believe it will be a signature feature of Ellsworth,” said Jason Barrett, a resident heavily involved in planning and fundraising for the proposed Knowlton Community Park. “Ellsworth is one of the fastest-growing cities in Maine and we don’t have something like this.”
Preliminary plans call for construction of an amphitheater with a raised bandstand, a pavilion, a basketball court, a multiuse court that can be flooded in winter for an ice rink as well as a fountain or water feature where children can play on hot summer days.
Planners also have proposed trails around the park as well as a 210-by-140-foot grassy area where the school buildings now sit. The existing playgrounds on the property will stay in place.
Since the project has an estimated price tag of $1 million, Barrett and others are already a special committee — known as the Join Us in Making a Park, or JUMP, Committee — to gear up for a fundraising drive. Barrett said the group hopes to raise approximately $500,000 in donations from the community, with the remainder coming from grants.
“With the building coming down, we are going to have an opportunity to build into that park features that will benefit citizens in multiple ways,” Barrett said.
The park is part of a trio of projects planned for that area of Ellsworth.
City officials plan to convert the former Moore School — a historic building located about a block away on State Street — into a community center for senior citizens and young people. There is also talk about building a new fire station on the Moore School property.
On the other side of the Knowlton property, a subsidiary of the Penquis community service agency is planning to build a 26-unit affordable housing complex catering to senior citizens. That project, which faces some opposition from residents of the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood, is before the planning board.