FRANKFORT, Maine — An elementary school that shuttered four years ago, when its students were shipped to a neighboring school, has a new life serving an older age bracket.
Since Frankfort Assisted Living opened earlier this month, 13 people have moved in, leaving just three beds open.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest, which shows we picked a good place,” Jake Chambers, 64, who purchased the former Frankfort Elementary School from the town in November 2016, said. Chambers’ company, Adult Family Care Homes of Maine, operates assisted living facilities in Calais, Bucksport and Pittsfield. Chambers said he has fielded a lot of calls from elderly residents in the Frankfort and Belfast area, and he wanted to open a facility nearby.
Originally, developers hoped to open as early as last May, but renovations took longer than expected.
“The furnace went back at the end of March, so that alone was $65,000,” Chambers said Thursday during a tour. The doors were rusting and drafty, so they all had to be replaced. The building’s sprinkler system needed about $70,000 in work. In all, Chambers estimates his company pumped about $1 million in renovations into the school.
The empty school was well suited to its new life, Chambers said. Large, open classrooms lining the hallway along the building’s lone wing were converted into two-bed living spaces, each with their own bathroom, two television hookups, kitchenettes and sitting areas. The old stage in the gymnasium was divided into a common living area, dining room, kitchen and storage. The rest of the gymnasium will be used for storage for now but could be opened up for community events and town meetings in the future, Chambers said.
There’s one couple living in the home, and the rest of the rooms are shared by roommates, who have found interesting ways to delineate their “sides” of the room.
Marlene Lakeman’s recliner is surrounded by skeins of yarn. To divide her end of the room, she set up a group of shelves filled with a rainbow of other tightly crammed scanes. The 84-year-old moved here from Georgia three weeks ago, becoming one of the first residents to call the facility home. She wanted to live closer to one of her daughters, who lives in Bucksport.
She’s been knitting most of her life, but recently has been focused on pumping out headbands, which she donates to area shelters, churches, police departments and charitable groups.
“I love doing it,” she said, showing off one of her latest projects. “I’ve been at it for two years and I’m not tired of it yet.”
She even taught one of the staffers at Frankfort Assisted Living to knit.
Frankfort Assisted Living has at least two staff members on site at all times. They ensure residents get their medications on schedule as well as do laundry, help residents wash if they need help and more. The staff also prepares three meals each day for the residents.
The town put the former school on the market in 2015. Two years earlier, the Frankfort residents voted to leave Regional School Unit 20 to join Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh in School Administrative District 22, leading to the shuttering of Frankfort’s K-5 school on North Searsport Road.
Chambers said he purchased the property, including about 14 acres of undeveloped land behind the building, for about $100,000 after lengthy negotiations with the town.
The sale price was much lower than the original $249,000 listing, but the town was motivated to sell the property so it could stop paying to heat and maintain an empty structure and at the same time get the building on the tax rolls for the first time.
Chambers has said he might consider building more apartments on the land behind the assisted living facility for seniors who want a more independent living situation with the option of moving into the main building as they age. He said they’ll have to see how demand pans out.
“We’re always looking to go where the need is,” Chambers said, adding that he’s received calls from other towns with vacated school buildings who are hoping to find a new use for them.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
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