Board pressing SAD 61 for Memorial School decision

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer
Bridgton Selectmen are out of patience with the SAD 61 School District’s indecision on whether to turn over the former Memorial School to the town.
They fear that the 1950s-era school building has already deteriorated by sitting vacant for the past half-decade, and that the situation is only becoming worse.
Town Manager Bob Peabody and Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development Director, Anne Krieg, both tried to put a positive spin on their discussions over the past month with school officials about the school. They said they impressed upon Superintendent Alan Smith and members of the Facilities Committee that there are a series of careful steps that need to take place before voters can decide whether to take over ownership of the school property for redevelopment.
“I think this issue is in front of them and they understand that we need resolution going forward,” Peabody said. The building has been declared as surplus by the district and has been used for storage for several years.
“They do have needs, particularly on the roadway going in,” Peabody said. “They realize it’s not an ‘us vs. them’ on if they are going to abandon the property, and that we need to work together to get this done.”
The town began investing in redevelopment in earnest five years ago, when it obtained a brownfields grant by working with the Greater Portland Council of Governments. Phase I and II cleanup studies have been completed, but in order for the actual physical cleanup to begin, the property needs to be conveyed to the town.
Before any ownership change, however, a third party agreement must be crafted that will allow the release of federal cleanup funds. That agreement, as well, needs to specify what future use is planned for the property.
Selectmen are concerned that if the process doesn’t move forward very soon, there won’t be enough time to put all the balls in motion before the June Town Meeting. Added to the pressure is the fact that the Phase I study is already outdated and will need to be repeated.
Murphy was the first to press for a deadline on a decision by the district.
“We’ve been batting this back and forth for six years…I want to see some results,” he said. The vacant school “is just holding old materials, just sitting there, rotting.”
Others noted the investment Bridgton is already making on Depot Street, the main access road to the school on Skillings Avenue. Redevelopment of the school property is seen as the “keystone” to future economic growth in the downtown, Peabody noted.
“The property is well-located in our core business district; that is, it is adjacent to the elementary school, accessed by three different directions, located next to a 67-acre park, and located at the end of newly-redeveloped and revitalized Depot Street,” Peabody wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Supt. Smith. “The opportunity to make this property another anchor in our downtown is tantamount to our downtown revitalization strategies.”

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