EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Katahdin region will have a new private Christian school with 10 to 15 students in September under a deal town leaders accepted on Monday, officials said Tuesday.
The Board of Selectmen voted 5-0 on Monday to sell the former Opal Myrick Elementary School to the Rev. Herschel Hafford of Millinocket for $1. Hafford and town Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley will meet on Wednesday to finalize details, Hafford said.
Selectman Mark Scally said he supported Hafford’s proposed K-4 Katahdin Christian Academy due to Hafford’s general success with ICare Ministries in Millinocket and his seeming to have a great deal of backing.
Public school buildings are notoriously difficult to re-sell to private businesses or re-purpose. School buildings in Mattawamkeag and Springfield that have been vacant or underused for at least the last five years are good local examples of this. Town officials have advertised Myrick’s availability nationwide and received little interest, Scally said.
The area’s last such venture, Tri-Town Christian Academy of Medway, ran successfully for several years before it closed due to its owners’ change of heart, Scally said.
Myrick “has been a school and he will keep it as a school. It is just a way of hanging onto the building without it going to demolition,” Scally said Tuesday. “It comes down to if somebody’s going to dig you out, it will probably be someone in your own backyard.”
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.
Opal Myrick’s name was transferred to a wing of of Schenck High School in September 2011 when the grade school’s students moved into the high school.
Scally said he didn’t feel the academy would increase the population decline in town public schools. East Millinocket’s projected student population in September is 209 students, the lowest in town history. The town’s student population has fallen 55 percent since 1995, school officials have said.
Houlton has a Christian academy and its high school still operates, Scally said.
As part of the agreement with Hafford, he will maintain the building for five years and selectmen will review the situation in two, he said. The building will continue to house the Katahdin Food Cupboard, Hafford said.
Hafford hopes to have 10 to 15 students enrolled at the academy when it opens in September. He has no experience running a school, but has already gotten a commitment from one teacher and is looking for more, Hafford said.
He is working with the Association of Christian Schools International and will be meeting with the Maine Department of Education to ensure that the school is appropriately licensed, he said. Hafford said he has very little money for school operations, but will charge tuition to students and do fundraisers.
“We are looking for just a few teachers, but we are also going to be looking for volunteers. We need resources to make this happen,” Hafford said.
“I think this [will make the old school building] a very positive part of the community again. When I drove by this morning I could imagine children having a great time learning and attending the school,” Hafford said.