BUCKSPORT, Maine — A state representative has 11 months to prepare a plan to turn a 177-year-old former seminary building into an eldercare facility.
The Town Council voted 5-0 last week to give Rep. Richard Campbell, an Orrington-based Republican and full-time contractor, five months plus an option for two three-month extensions to plot the revitalization of town-owned Wilson Hall on Franklin Street.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places but left derelict for more than 20 years, Wilson Hall’s rebirth could be a big victory for a town rebounding from a paper mill closure three years ago. The hall came within a councilor’s vote of being razed before residents eager to save the structure raised $5,000 in 2014 for partial repairs, Campbell said.
“It was quite a complex at one time, but now it’s very much an empty building,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s idea: to create a boutique health care and live-in rehabilitation facility for about two dozen elderly people. Also known as concierge medicine, boutique health care is highly personalized and often very expensive medical treatment.
The building rehab work will cost at least $1 million, he said.
Coastal Enterprises Inc. is working with Campbell and the group he has assembled to develop a business model, secure financing and redesign the hall, which the town acquired through tax foreclosure in late 2011.
The group includes a potential investor, regional health care providers and an eldercare specialist based in Virginia, Campbell said.
Wilson Hall was the first of several buildings at East Maine Conference Seminary, a college preparatory high school. The building held the first class of 13 males and 14 females and later became a girls dormitory.
Sometime after 1937, the Oblate Fathers used it to train young priests as missionaries. The Oblate Seminary ran at least until 1942. It is unclear when the building went out of use.
The hall has narrowly avoided the wrecking ball several times since 2000. The 2½-story building was cleaned out as part of the $5,000 renovation about three years ago. It has a leaky and tilted cupola and its roof sags in places, but Campbell said he is confident that the hall will survive the winter.
Residents would love to see a developer return Wilson Hall to the tax rolls. Some feel it is an asset to the town’s landscape. Others, Town Manager Sue Lessard said, “think the town should not spend a dime on it and it should all be torn down.”
Just repairing the roof and replacing the hall’s windows would cost $300,000, officials have said.
“This is a building that will take significant investment in order to repurpose in some way,” Lessard said. “I think it would be a loss to the community if it were just to get torn down. With a repurposed use that would allow it to have a new future, it would be an asset to the town.”
Campbell’s group might be Wilson Hall’s last chance to survive. The town has dangled the building before investors, and local arts groups have offered to buy it, but none have had enough money to save it, Lessard said.