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Bucksport officials trying to save former seminary building

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Wilson Hall building of the former seminary in Bucksport is seen Nov. 1, 2011. Town officials are looking to give away the building to a developer that is willing to renovate the 160-year-old structure.
By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Local officials might be willing to all but give away a 160-year-old former seminary building to a developer who would restore a historic structure that otherwise is likely facing the wrecking ball.

Located on a hilltop overlooking the Penobscot River and Fort Knox, Wilson Hall once housed a portion of the Eastern Maine Conference Seminary and then later a missionary training program. But the three-story brick building with a bell tower, which is listed on Maine’s historic register, has sat vacant and largely neglected since the early 1970s.

In a last-ditch effort to spare the building, town economic development director Dave Milan plans to solicit proposals from groups or individuals interested in redeveloping the property, which the town acquired through the courts last month because of tax liens. In return, the town might be willing to part with the building for little or no cost.

“It is basically a shell of a building,” Milan said. The interior has been gutted and there is extensive water damage. But Milan said that after walking through Wilson Hall recently before beginning the process of demolishing the structure, he came to the conclusion it was “too good to be torn down.”

“The bad news is you have to build it all from scratch” on the inside, Milan said. “But it is a brick building that has a tremendous amount of character and history.”

Wilson Hall is one of two historic buildings that town officials are desperately hoping to save.

Last month, the financial firm that owns the now-vacant Jed Prouty Inn on Main Street held an online auction for the 230-year-old building. However, the highest bid of $98,500 was below the firm’s reserve so the auction ended without a sale. Bucksport officials say the owner is negotiating with potential buyers of the hotel, which has sat vacant for eight years.

Wilson Hall, meanwhile, has been a problem for Bucksport officials for well over a decade.

In September 2001, the Town Council took a first step toward razing the hall, which the town’s code enforcement officer had called a “dangerous building.” But an analysis performed for the owner, Aaron Gleich of New York, found the building to be structurally sound, although Gleich was ordered to secure it to prevent people from sneaking inside.

Gleich subsequently submitted a plan to convert the hall into luxury apartments. However, that plan never became reality, the building has continued to deteriorate and Gleich once again fell behind on his taxes.

Town Manager Roger Raymond said Tuesday that a judge recently signed off on the city’s acquisition of the property due to the tax liens. Raymond said the town will work with potential developers, adding that he believes a sale price of $1 would be accepted if it meant saving the building.

“If we are not able to do that, the only other option for the council is to demolish the building,” Raymond said.

Last week, town councilors gave Milan the green light to solicit proposals from potential developers. The council also agreed to allow Milan to seek proposals from contractors to install temporary, waterproof covers over holes in the roof, the cupola and in one side of the building in order to prevent additional water damage.

Contractors have until 5 p.m. Friday to submit proposals for the temporary repair work.

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