HAMPDEN, Maine — While the agenda for Monday night’s regular meeting of the Hampden Town Council wasn’t too crowded and the meeting itself took just 35 minutes, members were able to get two significant things done despite being down two members.
With Jeremy Williams and Kristen Hornbrook absent, council members got surprisingly good news about the old Hampden Academy property swap with SAD 22, beyond confirmation that the town has officially closed on the property.
They also found out there may be more options and more possibilities than previously thought when it comes to developing or selling the property.
And along the way, they changed some ordinance language to make it easier and permissible for charitable, civic and nonprofit organizations in town to utilize unused space at their buildings and club locations as potential extra revenue sources.
“I think there were a number of organizations like the Masons which were inquiring about changing the ordinance language to allow them to do that,” said Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard.
Lessard explained that the previous town ordinance language prohibited utilizing unused space or alternate space in any kind of active way between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., unless the club or organization itself was hosting a special event.
“If the Masons wanted to put a storage business in the empty portions of their buildings and help defray costs, they can now do that. Before, they weren’t allowed,” she said. “The ordinance applies to educational, fraternal, cultural or community organizations like lodges, libraries, community buildings, performing arts places, stuff like that.”
Members of those organizations weren’t the only ones smiling as Mayor Janet Hughes and fellow councilor Tom Brann helped update councilors on ongoing plans for the old Hampden Academy property on the main road.
“We did officially close on the site and exchanged property behind Reeds Brook School for the old Hampden Academy and we’ve authorized the Hampden Recreation Department to explore utilizing it for their purposes, and they’ve already hosted a few activities there and will be hosting the town Halloween party Wednesday,” Hughes said.
Hughes added that they are also exploring other multiple uses for the property with various potential organizations.
“We’ve had discussions with Beal College, Eastern Maine Community College and other entities like senior assisted living and some developers, so we’re pretty excited about that,” said Hughes. “Because of all that, we’ve decided to continue to heat the facility this winter, at least at a minimum level, and look at more potential reuses of the buildings before we demolish anything.”
That’s quite a departure from an original plan calling for almost total demolition of all buildings on the site.
“Over the next couple months we’ll be exploring building conditions, conducting surveys and continuing to talk to other interested parties,” she added. “I think there are a lot more options here that we didn’t think we’d have, so we need to evaluate them before they pull the plug.”
Hughes said it’s still a near certainty that at least a couple of buildings, like the industrial building, will have to be demolished.
“Still, we can’t mothball them now and allow ice to form and thaw and freeze and destroy structures and then just turn the lights on in the spring and expect them to be in good condition,” she said.