June 19, 2018
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Landmark Cherryfield Academy being transformed into a community center

By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

CHERRYFIELD, Maine — Ever since it was built in 1851, the locals have called it “Cherryfield Academy.”

Now a push is on to have the cavernous, two-story Main Street school house overlooking the Narraguagus River be known instead as the “Cherryfield Academy Community Center.”

A space that for six generations provided high school classrooms for this Washington County community was the setting Sunday for a baby shower. A second-floor gymnasium that hasn’t reverberated the echos of dribbling basketballs for nearly 50 years was recently the venue for what, by all accounts, were three spectacular weddings. To mark a 50th birthday, the building hosted a sock hop, complete with soda fountain.

Like any old building that has endured more than a century of Maine winters, the Cherryfield Academy Community Center needs work. Lots of work. Lots of expensive work.

“We’re just going to go for it,” Cheryl Brown, who serves on the Cherryfield Academy board of trustees, said Saturday of the ongoing efforts to breathe new life into the building through restoration and tender, loving stewardship. “It needs to be done, and it needs to be done well. And the only way to do it is with community support.”

Support in Cherryfield for making the building the epicenter of community activities has been an on-again, off-again phenomenon since the early 1980s, when the schoolhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“Since then, some work has been done, like putting on storm windows,” Brown said. “But it wasn’t until the fall of 2011 that the trustees talked about getting people excited about it and making it more functional by renting it for events. We use that money to work on the building and to heat it in the winter, which costs a lot.”

The trustees’ restoration wish list seems endless: scraping and painting, restoring the steeple, upgrading the electrical system, installing a dehumidifier, refinishing hundreds of square feet of oak floors, replacing a heating system that belongs in a museum. There’s even talk of an elevator, which would be a huge expense.

One front-and-center project involves replacing a 90-foot, crumbling sidewalk entrance to the building with commemorative paving bricks engraved to the wishes of those who pay $50 to have a permanent presence on what’s been dubbed the “Sidewalk of Memories & History.” After covering the costs of buying the bricks and having them engraved and installed, each brick sold will provide $28 to the restoration effort, Brown said. The sidewalk will require 1,400 pavers.

Brown said the wordings on the bricks do not have to be academy related, although alumni have ordered bricks with their names and graduating class dates. Others are using the bricks as memorials or to commemorate weddings.

“The ideas are endless, and we’ve sold 89 so far,” Brown said. “Engraved bricks will be mingled in with any blank bricks, and we can place them so that families are together. However many donors this attracts, it’s going to be a gorgeous sidewalk, not only for the Academy but for the entire community.”

For more information on the ongoing efforts, call 812-1880 or send an email inquiry to CAtrustees2012@gmail.com.

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