Millinocket minister wants to turn shuttered East Millinocket school into Christian academy

A Millinocket minster and developer from Augusta have both come forward with proposals for the shuttered Opal Myrick Elementary School in East Millinocket, seen here on May 15.
A Millinocket minster and developer from Augusta have both come forward with proposals for the shuttered Opal Myrick Elementary School in East Millinocket, seen here on May 15. Buy Photo
Posted June 11, 2013, at 7:54 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — A Millinocket minister who wants the former Opal Myrick Elementary School to become a Christian academy has joined several entrepreneurs seeking to buy the building from the town for $1, officials said Tuesday.

The Rev. Herschel Hafford of ICare Ministries said that in his conversations with residents just in the last two weeks he has found dozens of parents interested in sending children to his school in September.

Hafford said that aside from a stint teaching at a Pentecostal school more than 30 years ago, he has no experience with such institutions. The idea came to him about two weeks ago as a vision that he shared with his congregants during a Sunday service, he said.

“I don’t know where the money will come from,” Hafford said Tuesday. “I expect it will work the same way it did when we started ICare Ministries 16 years ago.”

His church began with a $154 donation and has since grown to include a thrift store that donates goods to national and international causes. About 35 people attend services regularly, he said.

Built on Beech Street in 1926-27, the Opal Myrick school originally was Garret Schenck Jr. High School. The School Committee voted 5-0 in April 2011 to close the school. East Millinocket school Superintendent Quenten Clark estimated that the closure of Opal Myrick would save $150,000 in operational costs. He listed several problems with the building that make it costly.

Opal Myrick became part of Schenck High School in September 2011.

The Board of Selectmen met with resident Hollis Hafford — Herschel Hafford’s uncle — and real estate agent Charlie Theriault of Prudential Northeast Properties of Bangor in executive session on May 20. Theriault declined to discuss the proposals he is entertaining as the town’s real estate agent.

Herschel Hafford and his uncle have separate proposals, Herschel Hafford said.

Realtor and Augusta resident Debbie Dawson is also in talks with town officials about buying the building to turn it into a 15-apartment complex with a laundry folding service.

Under Dawson’s proposal, she would live in the building 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 those in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco but would be much more moderately priced, she has said.

Selectmen will meet on Monday at 4 p.m. to discuss what to do with the building, board Chairman Clint Linscott said. Linscott said he plans to recuse himself from the discussion due to personal differences with Hollis Hafford.

Herschel Hafford said his conversations with residents and selectmen about his idea have been positive. He plans to meet at his Spring Street ministry on June 25 with anyone interested in helping create the Christian academy. Anyone interested in helping develop his plan can call Hafford at 723-7977 or 447-1603, he said.

The Katahdin area has had a declining student population for decades, but Hafford said he doesn’t see his school as competing for students.

“It is not about who has the bigger and better school. It is about what education do people want for their kids,” Hafford said. “We have only scratched the surface, and I have people praying about this situation all over Maine.”

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