School board offers Hampden Academy to town

Posted Oct. 11, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 12, 2011, at 3:28 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — After two years of regular meetings, investigation and deliberations by its school reuse committee, SAD 22’s board of directors is offering to sell Hampden Academy and the land it occupies to the town.

The 23-acre tract was estimated to have fair market value of $1 million by Maine Valuation Co. of Standish, but the Town Council has estimated between $1 million and $1.5 million in demolition costs for the antiquated school, which will be replaced by a new $51.6 million high school scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.

Under a process prescribed by Maine state statute, the town would pay fair market value minus its portion of the school district’s cost-sharing formula. Since the town’s share of the SAD 22 budget is 61.39 percent, the town would pay 38.61 percent of the value, meaning $386,100.

The council, which has 60 days to accept the offer, likely will address the issue Monday night.

“I think the council is very interested in accepting this property because it is in the heart of the community and we’d like to see it developed to benefit all of Hampden’s citizens,” Mayor Janet Hughes said.

Kelly Bickmore, the SAD 22 board’s vice chairwoman and chairwoman of the board’s ad hoc school reuse committee, echoed that sentiment.

“Many people have a sentimental attachment to that property and a notion to preserve its memory, so we want to make a decision good for the school system that also makes good financial sense,” Bickmore said, adding that a condition of the sale requires that the original Hampden Academy building be preserved. The 1843 building, the original school building on the campus, is designated as a historic landmark, which is why the board included its preservation as a condition of the sale.

“Right from the beginning, we engaged people from all three communities about their vision for that property,” Bickmore said.

On Oct. 5, the board voted 11-1 with one member absent to make the sale offer to the town.

“In the end, for us to operate it as a school board, we couldn’t make the math add up so it was either revenue-neutral or revenue-producing,” Bickmore said.

The Town Council has until Dec. 5 to respond to the offer.

“It’s not enough time, but it might be enough for preliminary consideration,” Hughes said. “I’m hoping on Monday the council will vote to move forward and review the market value of the property.”

Hughes said the property sits in an ideal location in the heart of the town, near a scenic wooded area and very close to the Penobscot River.

“The town’s been looking at a long-term plan to develop a rec center and athletic field, and there is an athletic complex already there, so maybe we can have a town center there with shops,” she said.

Cchool superintendent Rick Lyons said the $386,100 would go into the board’s general education fund budget, which now totals $25 million.

Bickmore said the committee encountered a few obstacles along the way which limited its options for the 108,000-square-foot property.

“We started with a comprehensive development plan but the law limited some of our options,” Bickmore said. “So we settled on whether we wanted to be a temporary landlord as well as checking on how much the three communities were willing to invest, and it was clear that they did not want to invest tax dollars in a building that was empty and had no potential for generating revenue.”

Bickmore said other limitations included the need to borrow money to pay the cost of demolition and a loan requirement preventing the board from leasing or selling the property to private entities, and the town’s rejection of an offer to buy the school gymnasium for $1.

“The doors we had available to open didn’t really bring anything favorable for us if we opened them,” said Lyons.

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