EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Katahdin region’s sole Christian grade school opened its doors at the former Opal Myrick Elementary School this week with 14 students, two teachers and many blessings, its founder said Wednesday.
The families of the K-5 Katahdin Christian Academy’s students pay $2,500 each in annual tuition and are about evenly divided in residence between East Millinocket and Millinocket. Two teachers, Kylie Streams of Medway and Jolene Maynard of Lincoln, started instruction on Tuesday, said the Rev. Herschel Hafford of Millinocket.
“It is a whole lot better than we expected,” Hafford said Wednesday. “We had a whole bunch of deadlines to meet to pass [building] code inspections and to assemble the resources to do what we needed to do.”
Volunteers and school workers built a ramp to improve the school’s disability access, changed out emergency-light batteries, and tested the school’s fire alarms and sprinkler systems as part of restarting the building, Hafford said.
Built on Beech Street in 1926-27, the Opal Myrick school originally was Garret Schenck Jr. High School. The East Millinocket 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 Schenck High School in September 2011 when the grade school’s students moved to the high school.
The Board of Selectmen voted 5-0 in late July to sell the building to Hafford. Selectmen said they supported Hafford’s proposal due to his 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, selectmen have 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.
Ministers from five East Millinocket and Millinocket churches, including Hafford, oversee the school as its board of directors. Hafford said he expects to add at least three more students within the next few weeks. Anyone interested in enrolling a child can call him at 723-7977. The school’s telephone system will be installed early next week.
Hafford said he is grateful for the volunteers who have made the school’s quick opening possible.
The academy’s next big project is converting its No. 5 oil boiler to accept propane and No. 2 heating oil for $24,000. Hafford said fundraisers and donations will play a large part in that effort, which will begin the same way every other school initiative has.
“We are going to pray,” Hafford said, “and see what happens.”