2017-12-01 / Front Page

Cape to decide future of Spurwink

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

The Spurwink School Committee is expected later this month to recommend to the town council that the 168-year-old Spurwink School be used for the new headquarters of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society. The committee has been meeting on and off since spring 2016 to find a reuse for the building after the Thomas Memorial Library moved into a newly restored library building next door. (Michael Kelley photo) The Spurwink School Committee is expected later this month to recommend to the town council that the 168-year-old Spurwink School be used for the new headquarters of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society. The committee has been meeting on and off since spring 2016 to find a reuse for the building after the Thomas Memorial Library moved into a newly restored library building next door. (Michael Kelley photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — As South Portland school officials weigh the possibility of combining middle schools and discuss what to do with Mahoney and Memorial school buildings, officials in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough are also looking into how to deal with old, unused schools in their communities.

The Spurwink School Committee in Cape Elizabeth has been looking into the reuse potential for the school building, which is located next to Thomas Memorial Library on Scott Dyer Road, off and on since May 2016 and will in late December bring its recommendations to the Cape Elizabeth Town Council. The committee includes Councilors Jamie Garvin, Caitlin Jordan, school board members Heather Altenberg and John Voltz, as well as former councilor and Fort Williams Park Committee member Jim Walsh.

The schoolhouse was originally built on Bowery Beach Road near Fowler Road in 1849 and relocated closer to the nearby Spurwink Grange Hall in 1877. Due to a decline in students, the school was closed in 1913, but three years later it was purchased by Phineas Sprague, only to have William Widgery Thomas Jr., a former teacher at the school, purchase it in 1917. It was moved back to its original location and in 1919, Thomas gave it to the town to be used as a library.

Due to a population decline in the Spurwink area of town, residents, at the 1943 town meeting, voted to move the building to its current location. A series of additions were added on over the years as demand for library services grew and by the 1980s, the adult section of the library was being housed in the old Pond Cove annex and the children’s section in the original building. In 2014, after several drafts of the plan, voters approved a $4 million renovation project for the library, which redesigned the building and made the original library building not needed any more.

In 2015, former Town Manager Michael McGovern asked his department heads if they had use for the space.

“Nobody really raised their hand and said they were interested, which left us with the task of finding a solution and making a recommendation back to the council as to what that potential reuse may be,” Garvin said.

The building may no longer be needed by the library, but the public still sees value in keeping it as a town building. According to a 2015 survey, more than half (52 percent) of the 807 respondents favored using it for “public use,” rather than demolishing it (17 percent) or renting it out (24 percent).

A number of suggestions had been aired, including by the school leaders to use the building as a “laboratory for teaching and learning, an incubator for school and community collaborations and a center for creativity.”

“It was proposed to be an extension of the actual classroom space, but in more of a loosely organized way to teaching kids, whether it be a particular skill or subject or giving them an opportunity to be creative,” Garvin said.

Others suggested it be used as a senior center, space for the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation or Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, a group that shared the building with the library before the library was renovated in 2015- 2016.

Due to the cost of retrofitting the building to meet senior citizen needs and make it ADA compliant, that idea was quickly nixed. Senior citizens have since found space in the nearby Community Services building.

The school department’s proposal was pulled from the table in fall 2016 after Superintendent Meredith Nadeau, who was spearheading the initiative, left her post and interim superintendent Howard Colter expressed concerns about the cost of such an undertaking being born on residents through the school budget.

Garvin said the committee decided to “put the brakes” on their work after some competing early priorities, such as the hiring of a new town manager in 2017 and facilities director in summer 2017. In August, Garvin asked the council to revive the committee and since then the committee has been working to propose a way for the property to be reused.

The committee will meet again on Monday, Dec. 18 and is expected to have a proposal for the historical society to use the space in front of the council by the end of the year.

Locating the historical society back in that building, Garvin said, makes sense. After leaving the library building during construction, the historical society has been operating out of space in the public safety building.

“They are outgrowing that space,” Garvin said. “In the past year or so, there have been a number of people looking to donate different artifacts and materials to the historical society. Some of the things people are looking to donate are quite large, including a desk that belonged to Captain Williams, for whom Fort Williams is named. It is quite a large desk that has historical value to the town. The historical society hasn’t been able to accept some of these items because they don’t have the space to store them.”

Garvin said because it is located in the public safety building, it is hard for the historical society to also open its doors for researchers or genealogists.

Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society President Jim Rowe said although the public safety building “has been a great spot for us,” it does provide its limitations.

“Where we are now, our display space and work space is occupying the same general area,” Rowe said. “What the Spurwink School would allow us to do is dedicate some space to a small museum and have things displayed so the public could see it.”

The former school/library offers the historical preservation society 1,000 additional square feet on the first floor and potential use of the basement, where the historical society operated out of for years before being displaced when the library was being renovated and the entire Spurwink School served as temporary library space. The basement, Rowe said, has low ceilings, so occupying that space now may not be possible.

If the historical society does move out, it may pave the way for the town’s information technology department to move into the public safety space. Currently the department is scattered around the school buildings and town hall.

There will be a cost to the historical society moving into the old school/library building. According to preliminary estimates from Facilities Director Perry Schwarz, it could take $139,000 to improve the building and another $107,000 for parking lot work.

“It will be up to the council to see if that sort of investment makes sense,” Garvin said.

Rowe said the historical preservation committee will be ready to raise the funds needed as well, an ask that is likely to come from the council.

Scarborough’s historical preservation implementation committee is looking into preserving Beech Ridge School, a one-room schoolhouse on the corner of Holmes Road and Grapevine Lane. Scarborough Town Councilor Will Rowan, who is council liaison to the committee, said there are issues to the school’s foundation and parts of the building are open to the elements, but otherwise is structurally sound.

Becky Delaware, a member of the Historical Preservation Implementation Committee, said the building was built in the late 1800s after the original schoolhouse on site burnt down. Delaware said she is still looking into how long the building was used as a school. According to Maine Memory Network, the school was discontinued in 1947 at which time it was sold to the Beech Ridge Association. Most recently, it was used as meeting space for a community club.

Delaware said the building housed high school students on a rotating schedule with the schoolhouses in Dunstan and Oak Hill when the town first started high school until the late 1800s when the town built a permanent high school in Oak Hill in the building Arlberg Ski Shop operates in today.

Rowan said it is important to preserve the building as there are still many people in town who were educated in the facility.

“If we are going to do something, we need to do something quickly,” he said.

Delaware said the school is “definitely worth saving.” She said there are a number of issues with the building, such as a damaged roof that will need to be replaced, failing foundation, missing siding on the back of the building and broken windows and walls covered with tarps.

“It’s got some issues, but other than that it’s a pretty sound and stable building,” she said.

The building still has its original ornamental glass window on the front of the building and original hardwood floor in the building.

What should be done to the building is still up in the air.

“The (historic preservation implementation committee) and historical society is trying to work together to figure out what needs to be done and how we can attack it,” Delaware said.

The Beech Ridge School house is one of the few remaining one-room school houses in Scarborough.

“There were at least 13 in town. Each neighborhood had one. Students 4 to 21 were eligible to go, but there was no mandatory attendance and people attended when they could. Older boys wouldn’t go during the spring and fall because they were needed on the farm to plant and harvest and younger kids usually went in the summer because they didn’t have the warm clothes to walk there in the winter.”

Many of the others that are still standing have long since been converted to other uses and remodeled so much their schoolhouse elements are lost. The original Oak Hill Schoolhouse, located next to McDonald’s, is now a private home, the Dunstan Schoolhouse on the corner of Old Blue Point Road and Route 1 is the headquarters for ASHLEYlaurenKerr and the schoolhouse in Prout’s Neck is used as a garage.

“Fortunately, Beech Ridge has not been remodeled. It was used as a community club for years,” Delaware said.

Back in 2014, the Beech Ridge School was listed by the historic preservation implementation committee as a property in town that was “currently endangered.” Several of the other properties listed in that category have found reuse, including Dunstan School Restaurant (now On the Vine Marketplace), Southgate House (slated to be expanded into an affordable housing facility). Others in that category, such Dr. Bacon/Roy House and the Mulberry Milliken Barn and the old Dunstan School/Amvets building in Dunstan are also still standing. The barn at the old Benjamin Farm on Pleasant Hill Road has since been demolished and Ralph Temm house on County Road could as well to make way for a new childcare building on the site.


According to preliminary reports, it could cost an estimated $246,000 to convert the building and expand the parking lot for use by another entity.

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