EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — A Realtor and former Department of Health and Human Services worker who lives in Augusta wants to buy the former Opal Myrick School from the town for $1 to turn it into a 15-apartment vacationers complex for tourists, she said Wednesday.
Under Debbie Dawson’s proposal, she would live in and operate a laundry wash-and-fold business at the school while catering to clients who would pay $34,999 for a lifetime lease of an apartment in which they could stay for as many as 185 days a year.
Her plan is modeled after apartment complexes such as Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco but would be much more moderately priced, she said.
“It’s really for the outdoor enthusiast who wants to connect with the unspoiled areas of the country,” Dawson said Wednesday. “I will start small. I am not interested in making a lot of money quickly. My goal is to save the building. It is a beautiful building.”
Town officials are reviewing her plan, said Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. Their next task is to determine whether the sale must be approved by residents at a town meeting.
“I think it’s an awesome idea,” Linscott said of Dawson’s proposal, “but I think we will need voters to allow us to dispose of [the town’s] real estate and property.”
The town budgeted $34,310 this year to heat and maintain the building. The purchase would save the town the $38,235 it has tentatively budgeted for building maintenance in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, town Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley said.
Selectmen might discuss Dawson’s proposal at their next meeting, at 4 p.m. on Monday, Tapley said. Dawson could start realizing her plans immediately if the town OKs the sale.
“I am ready to be up in East Millinocket. I just need a yes or no,” Dawson said.
Built on Beech Street in 1926-27, Opal Myrick originally was Garret Schenck Jr. High School. As the town grew, a new high school was built and named after the Schenck family for its role in founding the Katahdin region paper mills and the building was renamed Opal Myrick School in memory of the longtime town teacher and principal.
The School Committee voted 5-0 in April 2011 to close the school. Board members cited a declining student population, the closure of the paper mill on Main Street and an anticipated massive revaluation of the mill.
East Millinocket school Superintendent Quenten Clark estimated at the time that the closure of Myrick would save $150,000 in operational costs alone. He listed several problems with the building that make it costly to run or renovate, including asbestos floor tiles, a lack of disability access and an aging heating system that consumed about 16,000 gallons of heating oil.
The real estate agent that has been showing the building for the town, Charlie Theriault of Prudential Northeast Properties of Bangor, did not immediately return a message left Wednesday.
If the town agrees to the sale, Dawson said she hopes to have a model apartment ready for public showing at the town’s SummerFest celebrations in July. The festival occurs at a park adjacent to the school and Dawson will offer $1,000 finder’s fees for anyone who helps recruit members, she said.
Dawson has flipped houses and bought foreclosed properties in South Carolina and Florida, but this 36,000-square-foot building would be her largest building. She hopes to do most of the remodeling herself and rent two apartments this year and eight next year. Dawson is considering using partial financing to help members close deals, she said.
As part of her plan, the building’s gym and auditorium would be available to members. The apartments would be furnished and have kitchenettes, refrigerators and microwave ovens but no ovens or hot plates. The school’s bathrooms would be remodeled with showers for members’ use. Members would save themselves the bother of hauling recreational equipment by using a fenced storage area behind the school for boats and snowmobiles, Dawson said.
The idea, Dawson said, is to make it a place where members can grab and go — sleep overnight, grab their equipment and spend the most time outdoors or at local restaurants.
“There’s just so much to do in the area,” Dawson said, adding that her brother, a logger from Jefferson named Bruce Dawson, was a major influence in her deciding to seek appropriate properties in the Katahdin region.
“He tells lots of stories about how wonderful the people are there,” Dawson said, “and it is true. The people are truly wonderful.”