June 23, 2018
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Rockland residents want green space, housing for closed school lot

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — A small group of people gathered Monday night to try to figure out what to do with a Rockland school that was closed in February 2010.

So far, the MacDougal School simply has rotted on a 5-acre lot. If there is one thing everyone in the room agreed on, it was the asbestos-filled building, built in 1955, should be ripped to the ground.

Ideas generated Monday night in City Hall included creating a dog park, general open green space for the public, housing or some combination of the three ideas.

The school is in the middle of a residential area and ideas for it largely steered away from business.

Audrey Lovering, Rockland’s community development director, pointed out that the city doesn’t own much land.

“We are land poor. We have 12.9 square miles for the city of Rockland. [To gain more city land] we either have to conquer another community or make land out of the harbor. I don’t see those happening,” Lovering said.

The land, Lovering pointed out, is the city’s bigger asset — not the building.

But the land has some problems. It might be a brownfield, according to town officials. There are heating oil tanks stored under some of the land. The land’s fields also have drainage problems.

But the land, which is valued at about $450,000, is in better shape than the building, which would need a new roof, new floors, new walls, new bathrooms, new pipes, new electric work, a boiler and more.

Of the ideas people wrote down and taped to a wall, the breakdown was this:

• Five people wanted open green space.

• Three people wanted housing.

• Three wanted a dog parkl

• Two wanted a mixed use of housing and public land.

• One person wanted a teen center and roller skate park.

• One person wanted businesses to move in.

City Councilor Larry Pritchett attended the meeting and suggested that the city demolish the building and use it for green space until the real estate market is stronger, then the city could consider selling it at a good price.

“One emerging idea here is that it would be used for different kinds of housing, but also some open space. It could be both, right? A modest housing development and a dog park, all on the same property. That’s what a lot of the people in this room would agree to, I think,” said Craig Freshley, who moderated the meeting.

The city now will create a task force to look into the issue. When the group makes recommendations, the City Council will vote on what to do with the land and building.

City officials at the meeting stressed that there was no rush to take any action but the land is costing money and is a liability for the city.

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