June 18, 2018
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Hampden officials unveil details of former high school reuse proposal, defer action

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — After months of negotiations that have taken place behind closed doors, town councilors and their legal counsel on Monday revealed some of the details related to a reuse proposal for the former Hampden Academy property.

With negotiations with hoteliers Danny and Carla Lafayette winding down, town councilors on Monday night were poised to take formal steps toward closing the deal — namely taking action on an ordinance authorizing the sale of the former high school complex and an ordinance amendment that would change the former high school parcel from its current Residential A and Residential B zoning designations to Village Commercial.

Also on the agenda for Monday night’s council meeting was a proposed purchase and sale agreement for the 22-acre site and the buildings on it, and a lease agreement that would allow the town to continue to use the former high school gym as a recreation center.

Councilors decided instead to hold off voting on the matter at the request of Council Chairman Janet Hughes, who said she wanted residents — who were being provided the details of the proposed reuse deal for the first time that night — to have the opportunity to weigh in.

In addition, some councilors said they wanted to take a closer look at some of the proposed terms, such as parking provisions and the town’s role in plowing and mowing the complex, to make sure they are in the town’s best interest.

The agreements and ordinance changes will be taken up again during the council’s next regular meeting, set for Aug. 5.

Town officials and the Lafayettes have been in talks about the former high school property since spring, according to published reports. The Lafayettes in May formed Historic Hampden Academy LLC, the legal entity that will take on the redevelopment, if a deal is struck. Town officials earlier 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 office building complexes, health or retail malls, restaurants, hotels, housing units or retirement communities.

During Monday’s marathon session, Town Attorney Thomas Russell outlined some of the key details of the proposed deal with Historic Hampden Academy LLC, which can be seen in their entirety on the town’s website. These include:

— The developer would pay $60,000 for the property, address the Skeehan Centers’ leaky roof and

— The town would be able to continue leasing the Skeehan Center gym at a cost of $1 a year, plus operating costs, for an initial term of five years, with automatic renewal options.

The developer would reserve the use of the band room and some locker room space and retain the ability to use the facility for up to six fundraising and other events of up to three days in duration annually upon providing the town 180 days notice;

— The town would have 21 dedicated parking spaces, but shared access to more than 200 others available on the site;

— The deal would be contingent upon, among other things, the zoning ordinance changes, changes to the town’s sign ordinance, an appraisal acceptable to both the town and Historic Hampden Academy LLC; and the removal of a remaining portable classroom, which already has been done;

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. Its one-year lease runs through late December, Bennett said.

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. Bennett said Tuesday that there is no money in this year’s town’s budget to continue providing heat and electricity should a deal not be struck before winter.

He said demolition and environmental remediation costs have been estimated at $2.2 million.

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