2018-03-23 / Community

School tapped to house society

By Ben Meiklejohn
Contributing Writer


Spurwink Trail weaves through this town-owned property where visitors can find views of Spurwink Marsh. (Garrick Hoffman photo) Spurwink Trail weaves through this town-owned property where visitors can find views of Spurwink Marsh. (Garrick Hoffman photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society is the last group left standing in an effort to find an occupant for the former Spurwink School, located next to Thomas Memorial Library on Scott Dyer Road.

The Spurwink School Reuse Committee, chaired by Town Councilor Jamie Garvin, has been granted an extension to May 11 to submit a recommendation on the site’s use.

Garvin said even though the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society is the last interested party left in the process, it is also a group that fits the criteria the town is looking for.

“It was never the committee’s position to take the only applicant,” Garvin said. “It was always the objective to take the best use of the facility. Even though they’re the only ones with an active interest, it also remains a good and viable use, not just the (proposal) that lasted the longest.”

Garvin said the school department had explored developing the site as an alternative learning space, but backed out to look into other options to provide those services.

“They thought there might be better available space on the school campus, or could integrate other ideas being proposed to have (the services) spread throughout academic programming in existing facilities without taking on the additional responsibility of another facility,” Garvin said.

Another proposal, said Garvin, was to consider something to meet the growing needs of senior citizens, but the amount of repurposing of the building needed could have been problematic to adequately meet the needs of seniors.

“We started steering away from that due to the amount (of repurposing) required. It’s not an ideal building for that demographic,” he said.

A pre-school and after-school child care service organization was also interested, said Gavin, but the lack of suitable kitchen space and other factors made the building unsuitable for their use.

Town Council Chairman Jessica Sullivan said any use of the building is going to require significant reconstruction.

“I don’t know what the cost is, but my understanding is it will be fairly significant,” Sullivan said. “It had a great deal of alterations over the years ... We have a responsibility to the taxpayers to do due diligence to do a cost estimates for repurposing.”

Sullivan said those estimates would likely be done at the next phase of negotiations, after the Spurwink School Reuse Committee submits its recommendations.

Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said if the council accepts the committee’s recommendation and proceeds, the town would then begin to explore what the financial arrangement between the town and the Historical Preservation Society would look like.

“I don’t think it would be an outright purchase,” Sturgis said.

In terms of the society assuming some costs of renovation, Sturgis said, “That could be an option. It’s not unheard of in other communities, where reasonable and very low costs for rent are offered with a provision that the property is improved.”

Garvin said the other primary proposals that were under evaluation each withdrew for their own “unique and individual reasons,” but the Historical Preservation Society’s proposal was still always viewed as a viable use.

The town already has an existing agreement with the group, where the town provides space and the organization serves as the town’s official archivist.

“I imagine we would update or modify that agreement as a starting place in terms of our continued relationship,” Gavin said. “They have been regular attendees and active participants in this review and meeting process, but we have not made any commitments on funding.”

Garvin said there have been informal discussions about the possibility of the group making a one-time contribution as part of a capital campaign, or possibly ongoing payments, to help defer the cost of repurposing the site.

The Sentry was unable to reach James Rowe, president of Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, before publication deadline.

Garvin said the committee is expected to meet next week to formally recommend the Historical Preservation Society as the next occupant of the building. As of the Sentry’s deadline, the committee’s meeting time and date had not yet been formally scheduled.

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