MACHIAS, Maine — Susan Corbett, who has purchased the landmark Machias 5-10 building, finds herself already knee-deep in the process of turning the 1932 building’s third floor into studio and exhibition space for local artists.
Corbett, the CEO of Machias-based Axiom Technologies, terms it a “pay-it-forward project.” Her idea is the artists who make use of the space at $1 a year will give back to the community in various ways, including mentoring students from schools in a variety of media, from typography and printing to painting and ceramics.
“What we envision is that this building can be an arts hub for the downtown,” Corbett said of the structure that fronts both Water and Colonial Way streets.
With the help of Hillary Savage and Kehben Grier, Corbett is well into the process of converting the 9,000-square-foot building’s third floor into a space where artists can both work and showcase their artwork. She also envisions students from the University of Maine at Machias using the studio space, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
A Reiki master, Corbett also plans to convert one corner of the third floor into a “healing room.”
Renovations on the building have already begun. Corbett said she hopes to bring the entire building up to code by late spring or early summer. While renovations needed on the first and second floor are minimal, there is no shortage of work to be done on the third floor, which is currently littered with demolition rubble. The electricity and plumbing need work, and Corbett plans to install a public access staircase and an elevator. The building’s roof also needs to be repaired.
While she says it is important to get the building up to code and ready for use, Corbett says many of the aesthetic changes to the space will happen over time.
“The space has to be designed around the art and the artists who make use of it,” she said.
While the 5-10 building is ineligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of previous facade renovations, the split-level building has a long and colorful history in Machias. Corbett has been working on recovering some artifacts that used to reside in the 5-10 building — among them a hot peanut roaster — and bringing them back with the hopes of mixing old pieces with new technology.
“If we can find it, we’ll put the peanut roaster on the second floor,” she said. “We have located the whistle that used to be in the cupola. Apparently it was blown at 9 p.m. to mark a curfew, and people would scurry to their homes. I think it was also used to signal emergencies and fires, but what I know about it is at least third-hand.
“It means a lot to a lot of different people,” Corbett said of the building, which houses her high-tech, broadband-based company from its access at 3 Water St. The upper stories of the building are at 6 Colonial Way.
Corbett originally wanted to buy the building so her company would not have to move when the building was auctioned by a local bank.
The first floor of the 5-10 building will continue to house Axiom Technologies. The Downeast Coastal Conservancy, which currently occupies much of the building’s second floor, will remain a tenant. Corbett plans to convert the other half of the second floor into a computer lab for educational purposes. The third floor will be dedicated to the public use.
“I may be the owner,” Corbett said, “but it’s a community building.”