June 22, 2018
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Negotiations wind down on old Hampden Academy redevelopment deal

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — As negotiations with hoteliers Danny and Carla Lafayette near completion, town officials this week put into motion the final steps before the town can sell the former Hampden Academy parcel.

Those measures — including introducing for public hearing an ordinance authorizing the sale of the former high school complex — were unanimously approved during a regular town council meeting on Monday night.

Hampden’s town charter requires an ordinance be adopted and a public hearing held before the council can convey town-owned property, Town Manager Susan Lessard said Wednesday.

Lessard said that the public hearing could take place as soon as Monday, July 15, if the town and the Lafayettes, who in May formed Historic Hampden Academy LLC, come to terms on a purchase and sale agreement.

Also Monday, councilors referred a draft zoning ordinance amendment for the former school parcel to the planning board, which could take it up at its next meeting, set for Wednesday, July 10.

Town officials and the Lafayettes have been in talks about the former high school property since spring, according to published reports.

“Several meetings have taken place in executive session, and negotiations appear to be coming to an end,” Town Council Chairman Janet Hughes said Monday night. “The draft purchase and sales agreement will be available for the public to review prior to the council voting on the sale, Janet Hughes said.

Also in the works is a lease agreement that would allow the town to continue using the Skehan Center for recreation purposes, she noted.

“I’m optimistic that we can come to terms,“ Dean Bennett, Hampden’s community and economic development director, said Tuesday.

Although few details surrounding the deal have been made public, town officials have confirmed that the Lafayettes are seeking to develop all 22 acres of the old Hampden Academy property without tearing down the main buildings.

The Lafayettes, who have a chain of 27 hotels in Maine and beyond, made a preliminary offer to cover most of the cleanup and other applicable costs associated with developing the land into possible office building complexes, health or retail malls, restaurants and-or hotel businesses, housing units or retirement communities.

Hughes said that while the details of the purchase and sales agreement are still considered confidential because they are in negotiation, they will be revealed before the councilors vote in order for the community to have a chance to weigh in.

“As we discussed, it’s good to be as transparent as possible,” Hughes said.

The Lafayettes have been major supporters of local charities over the years — including a $2 million donation to the Champion for the Cure campaign for a new cancer center now known as the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer. Town officials say the couple wants to preserve the core of the old academy as it holds special meaning for them. Their children all graduated from the school.

The town acquired the original Hampden Academy property from SAD 22 in a land swap last November.

Hampden’s recreation department has been using the Skehan Center, the former high school gym, as its headquarters since late last year and if the deal with the Lafayettes comes through, would continue to lease it.

In addition, Calvary Apostolic has remodeled — at its cost — the academy’s library and four nearby classrooms for worship services and office and activity space.

Before talks with the Lafayettes began this spring, the town had entertained inquiries from a variety of other interested parties including Beal College, Eastern Maine Community College and the Bangor Police Department, according to previous Bangor Daily News stories.

One reason the town is eager to sell the property is the costs of maintaining it, Bennett said. He pegged the cost of doing so over the past winter at more than $200,000.

He said, however, that demolition and environmental remediation would have cost much more, at $1.3 million to $1.8 million.

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