BELFAST, Maine — For sale: one century-old brick schoolhouse, offered next month at auction to the highest bidder.
After a long-lived stint as the Peirce School and a much shorter one as the ill-fated Belfast Academy of Music, the 11,000-square-foot property at the corner of Church and Elm streets in Belfast is looking for a new owner. Previous owner William Ryan, who purchased the building from the city for $265,000 several years ago with the intention of creating the music school, defaulted on his mortgage.
While the school’s new owner would enjoy three floors of high-ceilinged classrooms, what they would not enjoy is a wide range of uses, according to Belfast city officials. The city values the property — including 3/4 of an acre — at $311,800.
Belfast City Planner Wayne Marshall said Tuesday that the school lies within the residential 1 zoning district, which limits potential uses. It can be used as a single-family house or a duplex. It can also be a school, as has been the case for most of the last 100 years, or some type of community center. If the new owners want to turn it into a professional office — that’s possible, but it must be owner-occupied and be a single-practitioner office with no more than two full-time employees.
“At present it’s a very limited-use district,” Marshall said.
The Belfast Planning Board has had initial discussions about doing contract rezoning for Peirce School and six other properties in town, including other former schools and a former hospital, but so far the discussions have not led to policy change, he said.
Peirce School was built in 1915 after a few years of escalating need for a new high school, according to information listed on the website for the Peirce School. By the turn of the 20th century, there were more high school students trying to squeeze into the old 1824 school building than could fit. In 1907, Belfast’s inspector of buildings condemned the old high school and the city had to fund construction of a new school, which was built on the site of the old South Primary School.
Fast-forward 100 years to a sort of competition in Belfast, in which city councilors had to select one of three proposals for the future of the recently-closed and unused Peirce School.
Ryan, who owned the Ryan Art Gallery on Main Street, told the councilors in 2006 that he wanted to convert the upper floor of the school to a private residence, with the basement and ground floors to be used as classrooms. The school would offer an extended music curriculum for area students, he said then, and would include seminars, workshops and lectures by music professionals in the Belfast area.
Councilors selected his plan over a proposal made by the Cornerspring Montessori School to expand its classes to the elementary grades and a proposal made by the former owners of the Cellar Door Winery in Lincolnville to turn the old school into a combination residence and art gallery.
Two years ago, Ryan came back to the city council to say that he was not able to continue his efforts to create a school or even to maintain the brick building, in which he was living.
“Income to the academy has not met the expense of the property, and my personal reserves have been exhausted in paying the bills of both entities,” he wrote in a letter asking the city to repurchase it for the 2007 sale price.
Councilors declined his offer.
“We don’t have a city use for it,” Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum said. “If we were to buy it, the only reason we would is to develop it into something else for someone else.”
The school will be put up for auction at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, by the Keenan Auction Co.