HAMPDEN, Maine — On the same night the Hampden Town Council approved a land transfer as part of the ongoing deal with SAD 22 to take over the old Hampden Academy property, it also approved a new tenant for the old high school.
The full council also approved a pilot program by the Hampden Recreation Department, which has been without permanent facilities of its own for many years, to take over the Skehan Center at the old Hampden Academy.
“This opens up some tremendous possibilities for us. The potential is three to four times what we’re currently offering,” said Hampden Recreation Department Director Kurt Mathies. “The space is quite substantial.”
The Skehan Center was the home court for the high school basketball teams as well as the primary indoor sports and recreation space for the old Academy.
Mathies served as track and field and soccer coach for six years at Hampden Academy, so he’s well-acquainted with the Skehan facilities.
“We’re going from virtually no space and utilizing whatever we could use at Weatherbee School, McGraw, Reeds Brook and the old Hampden Academy to a whole bunch space in one location all the time,” he said.
The space will literally be a big boon to the rec department in many ways.
“We currently have three full-time employees sharing a 10- by 14-foot office space, so having more storage and office space is huge, especially the storage,” he said.
The deal could solve at least a couple problems at once.
“The Skehan Center is something we really need to heat and maintain, and several members of the community have expressed a desire to have an expanded recreation program,” said Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes. “This will be a pilot program to utilize that space while hopefully cover the cost differential between heating an empty building and heating one that’s being used full-time.”
Hughes said the rec department will pay user fees to use the center.
Another bonus is the potential to finally expand the before- and after-school programs currently operating at capacity.
“The before and after-school programs are full and there are waiting lists to get into them,” Hughes said.
Mathies, a Nokomis Regional High School alumnus, said the current programs are capped at 35 in the morning (before-school) and 50 in the after-school program.
While the current plan is to use the Skehan center through next June, Hughes and Mathies both see a longer-term option as well.
“The other thing I wanted to add is the town’s comprehensive plan has a permanent rec building on the list,” Hughes explained. “And the council has pledged to use the Skehan Center as that possible facility, which would be much cheaper than building a new one.”
Mathies hopes to move into the center within two months and once all the closing details are wrapped up.
“I think there really is a huge need for this facility and brand-new facilities are not cheap,” he said. “The beauty of this facility is the fact there are two basketball courts side by side and this big room in the back that can be utilized as a great community room for senior citizens or kids or banquets. We used to have a senior citizen exercise class here, but it got too big and we couldn’t accommodate it.”
“Now we can not only not have to worry about having 70 kids at once, we are already looking at ways to immediately expand the programs we offer,” he said. “It’s like a new toy for us.”