ROCKLAND, Maine — The Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education will close its doors in June, citing the high costs of maintaining the building that was built shortly after the Civil War.
“It’s a very sad day — it’s a huge loss,” said Elizabeth May, chairwoman of the Lincoln Street Board of Directors.
The Lincoln Street Center is the home to the independent Watershed School, which has 26 students and studios for more than 50 artists.
May said the board of directors had looked at viable alternatives to keep the center open but that in the end, the cost of maintaining the building was too great. The building needs a new roof, a new furnace and new windows, she said.
Rockland Mayor Brian Harden said Wednesday he was upset by the announcement.
“It has been a wonderful cultural asset to the entire community,” Harden said. “The arts, crafts, the Watersheld School, it’s all been very positive but very challenging financially.”
May said she does not know what will happen with the three-story, 45,000-square-foot brick building. Camden National Bank holds the mortgage and center officials were meeting with the bank Wednesday.
The building was erected in 1868 as the Lincoln Street School that served as the high school for Rockland. The building served as the high school until 1963, when Rockland District High School was built, and then as Rockland District Middle School until 1995, when it closed due to increasing complaints of student and staff illnesses linked to poor air quality.
The city of Rockland acquired the property back from the school district in 1996. The city appointed a committee to look at potential uses for the vacant building and in response, the Lincoln Street Center organization was formed. The city leased the building to the organization for three years before selling it for $61,000 in April 2002.
The school has a 300-seat auditorium and a gymnasium along with numerous classrooms. There is also a Rockland Alumni Heritage room with memorabilia from Rockland High School and Rockland District High School.
Avery Larned, hired as executive director of the Lincoln Center in December, expressed sadness over the decision to close. She said the artists and Watershed School were notified over the past several days after the board made its decision.
“Maybe the spirit and creativity that helped make the center will rise from the ashes,” she said.
In addition to Watershed, the center is home to Hope Arts Conservatory, the Rockland School of Ballet, Out Maine and the Rock Coast Roller Derby team.
Watershed School Director Will Galloway and board of trustees President Max Alexander said in a news release that a committee that includes advisers from the regional business community as well as representatives of the city and area nonprofit organizations are working on finding a new home for the school before the start of the 2012-2013 school year in September.
“Watershed and its students have an amazing reputation,” said Rockland Community Development Director Audrey Lovering in the news release, “and we’re committed to helping the school find a new home.”
Galloway said that despite the suddenness of the closure, he views it as an opportunity for Watershed, which has been expanding its enrollment, faculty and curriculum.
While many factors will be weighed in choosing a new home for Watershed, Galloway said in the release that a prospective space would require 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, parking for 12 or more cars, and access to open space for outdoor recreation. The school has capitalized on its in-town location to forge close ties with the Farnsworth Museum, the Rockland Public Library and other institutions within walking distance for students, he noted.
In 2010, Watershed School gained full accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and is now certified by the Maine Department of Education, which means families in communities without a public high school can apply their tuition credit to Watershed. The school attracts day students from three Maine counties and foreign exchange students from all over the world who the school director said are seeking a demanding intellectual environment in the context of a small and supportive learning community.
Though the center will close June 30, a board member of the Watershed School said the school is entertaining invitations from several property owners in the Rockland-Camden area and is confident it will have a new home well before the next school year.