BELFAST, Maine — Word on the streets of the Waldo County seat is that the long-vacant Crosby School has an interested buyer who would redevelop it into something that would be beneficial to Belfast.
City officials confirmed the rumors — sort of — at Tuesday night’s regular city council meeting. Though they did not name the potential buyer for the 38,000-square-foot building, City Manager Joe Slocum did specify that the developer is looking at developing the Crosby School for market-rate apartments.
“We know, understand and welcome the notion that this proposal will inspire a tremendous amount of dialogue within the community,” Slocum wrote in his manager’s report, adding that city councilors are not supposed to talk informally about the project with interested residents. “The ultimate decision, whatever it will be, [will be] based upon what is on the record of these proceedings [public hearings] and not on some discussions on the street corner.”
The Crosby School is of interest to many in Belfast, partly because of its prominent Church Street location and partly because of its storied — and varied — past. The three-story brick building, located in the heart of the city’s downtown, was built in 1923 as the Crosby High School, with funds raised by individual and city contributions. It remained the high school for Belfast teenagers until 1965, when it became the junior high, and was featured in the 1957 movie “Peyton Place.”
In 1993, the junior high moved to a new middle school building across town, and the Crosby School was empty for three years, until city officials decided to sell it for $200,000 to the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped, a New York-based organization. Rick Curry, the head of the organization who has since become a Jesuit priest, has said the group invested about $3.5 million into the building to add theaters, lounges, apartments and an elevator.
After it fell into disuse by the theater company, Belfast residents complained that the structure was not being maintained and was beginning to deteriorate. When the theater workshop defaulted on a $700 sewer bill, the city foreclosed on the school in 2010, with councilors voting to give it back the following year only after the workshop made a good-faith effort to repair and maintain the landmark structure.
The organization listed the building for sale in 2013, and as of last year, it had an asking price of nearly $2 million. But the price has dropped dramatically, most recently to $995,000. Slocum said that a “highly qualified” Maine firm has been crunching numbers for the structure to see if it could build affordable housing there.
“The council and staff were both distressed to learn a couple of months ago that this entity could not make the numbers work and that the project could not financially succeed for affordable housing,” Slocum wrote in the manager’s report.
He said Wednesday morning that city officials have asked the unnamed developer, who he described as “very reputable,” to hold his or her own public information sessions for residents so that they will be informed. The school is under contract rezoning, meaning that in order to change the property’s original use, the Belfast Planning Board and the Belfast City Council will set conditions by which the developer would need to abide. Slocum said he expects the city to receive an application regarding the property in about a month.
“It’s a historic facility in the town,” he said. “A lot of people went to that school and have great pride in it.”