SANGERVILLE, Maine — The ongoing saga of the former Abbie Fowler School continues in Sangerville where town officials and residents want the building demolished.
But 11 years after SAD 4 closed the school due to declining enrollment, the building is still standing.
The major problem is related to the amount of contamination in the building itself or the soil around the structure, according to Town Manager David Pearson. “When CES (an environmental engineering firm) did a study on the soil, they found one spot that was contaminated and removed it,” Pearson said last week. “So as things stand now, we’re looking at the Phase II environmental assessment that should tell us more.”
The Board of Selectmen recently approved spending up to $17,000 for what’s known as a Phase II environmental site assessment to be completed by CES Inc., a Brewer-based engineering firm. But Pearson said that the cost may wind up lower because it includes $9,000 for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) testing.
“CES already did some testing and found some PCBs in the window caulking and some soil. But they remediated it,” Pearson said. “The original demolition estimate was around $400,000 because the contractors assumed there were PCBs in every nook and cranny of the building.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs were commonly used in thermal insulation material until they were banned in 1979. Studies have shown that exposure to PCBs are linked to “adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.” The Abbie Fowler School was built in 1959-60.
Pearson is optimistic that the demolition will cost less than $200,000 and much of the funding can be picked up through an EPA program known as brownfields. It provides low-interest loans or grants to remediate a site that contains a hazardous substance which hinders the potential to reuse or develop the site.
One process that would make obtaining grants easier is to transfer the property to the non-profit Sangerville Historical Society, Pearson said. “We know the building has to come down, but the land underneath will have some value,” he added.
Shortly after the school was vacated in 2002, the town and the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council secured two tenants for the building: a fitness center and a field office of Child Development Services.
But eventually the town discovered the cost of maintaining the old school was higher than the amount of rent they were charging. In 2010, residents voted to have the building demolished.
“It’s been a slow process,” Pearson acknowledged, “but we’re making progress.”