ELLSWORTH , Maine — The planned renovation of a former elementary school got its final go-ahead from the city Monday night when the council voted unanimously to hire a South Portland construction firm for the project.
Ledgewood Construction is expected to begin work in a few weeks to convert the former Gen. Bryant E. Moore school, located on State Street, and complete the project by this fall, according to Ellsworth officials. The project is expected to cost $4.6 million, with much of it funded through tax increment financing funds generated by nearby housing development projects.
The Moore building, originally built in 1923 and expanded in 1955, has been used to host nonprofit programs since the city opened the expanded elementary and middle school on Forest Avenue in the fall of 2010. The main tenants of the building over the past three years have been the Down East Family YMCA, which has housed its day care facility in a rear wing of the building, and Friends in Action, which has offered programs for seniors in the original part of the school.
Those tenants will remain after the project is complete, but city officials are hoping the new Moore Community Center will draw many more people through its doors. Nonprofit organizations will be able to rent out space for the cost of custodial staffing, while other entities will be charged rental fees.
City Manager Michelle Beal said Tuesday that the renovated building will have rooms available to rent and a large function space that can accommodate up to 200 people. There will be limited room in the building when the YMCA and Friends in Action are having programs in the building during weekday business hours, but on nights and weekends, much of it will be available. Conference rooms, a gym, renovated kitchen space and a restored 100-seat auditorium all will be available to rent for special functions, she said.
Beal said space in Ellsworth for holding public meetings or group luncheons has become more scarce in recent years. She said she recently got an inquiry from someone who was looking to hold a luncheon for 90 people, but Beal had nothing to suggest.
“I don’t have that in Ellsworth,” Beal said. “The need for space [in Ellsworth] is dramatic, and it far exceeds what is available now.”
Gary Fortier, a member of the city’s elected council, said at the Monday council meeting that the project will result in property taxpayers having to contribute only $60,000 or so a year for 20 years.
The remaining funds — more than $3 million — will be paid by developers through a tax-increment financing district that consists of the Leonard Lake Senior Housing development under construction on nearby Shore Road, adjacent to the former Knowlton School property, and the First Atlantic Health Care project, next to the former Moore School. First Atlantic Healthcare is building a new senior living facility on the former athletic field of the Moore school.
“This makes for an incredible bargain on an incredible project,” Fortier said of the Moore school renovation.
The project is not expected to completely satisfy the need in the Hancock County area for meeting and function space. But according to Micki Sumpter, the city’s economic development director, it will benefit more than just local residents and organizations.
“This is going to help a lot of people outside the Ellsworth area,” she said
Correction: An earlier version of this story requires correction. The former Gen. Bryant E. Moore school was built in 1923, not 1927.