ELLSWORTH, Maine — City Council members have voted to move forward with plans to renovate the old Moore School for use as a senior center and to begin preliminary work on an upgrade to the city’s water treatment system in order to meet state regulations.
The old Bryant E. Moore School, located on State Street, closed in 2009 but has been used since by the YMCA, Friends in Action and more than two dozen community groups as a senior center, a day care facility and gathering place for a host of other activities.
A coalition has been meeting for well over a year to discuss plans for a more permanent reuse of the school. On Monday evening, city councilors gave their blessing to move forward with plans for a $2.3 million renovation of the historic school.
Councilor Stephen Beathem — a self-described fiscal conservative — noted that while $2.3 million sounds like a large amount of money, the city would be getting a good return on its investment in this case.
“When you’re talking about a community center of this size and this magnitude, this really is a bargain,” Beathem said.
“I think you’ve done an incredible job, over and above anything what I could have ever hoped for,” Councilor John Moore said.
Although often described as a senior center, the renovated building would offer features for use by the wider community. Plans call for expanded day care facilities, a cafe and renovation of the old stage and auditorium. The YMCA, which currently leases the building from the city, as well as Friends in Action — a nonprofit that provides services and programs for senior citizens — have already opened a conference room and a computer lab in the building.
Peter Farragher with Down East Family YMCA and Jo Cooper with Friends in Action told the council that the facility is already used by 26 community groups. More than 800 seniors have used the facility since 2009 and 114 children are currently enrolled in the day care program, with another 82 children participating in afterschool programs.
City manager Michelle Beal said much of the costs are associated with making the building compliant with accessibility requirements under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Beal said grants might be available to pay for some aspects of the project but that much of the funding would likely come through municipal bonds. Monday’s vote was only a commitment to provide funding in the future, however.
Councilors also agreed to spend up to $35,000 on preliminary design work for a new ultraviolet treatment system and other upgrades at the city’s water facility.
Representatives from the consulting firm Woodard & Curran told councilors that the water system has ample capacity to accommodate anticipated growth. But the city likely needs to upgrade two aspects of the treatment system — the disinfection process and the lagoons for back-flow of water — in order to comply with state regulations.
Consultants recommended that the city explore installing a treatment system that uses powerful ultraviolet lights to disinfect the water as a way to reduce reliance on chlorine. Numerous other Maine towns and cities, including Bar Harbor and Bangor, are using or exploring ultraviolet water treatment systems.