2016-10-04 / Front Page

Old school may become new community center

Staff Writer

The former Cousens School at 382 Goodwins Mills Road in Lyman. 
SUBMITTED PHOTO The former Cousens School at 382 Goodwins Mills Road in Lyman. SUBMITTED PHOTO LYMAN — Proponents of turning the former Cousens Memorial School into town offices and a community center say it is the most cost effective way to accommodate the needs of the town in the future.

The former Cousens Memorial School, 382 Goodwins Mills Road, was built in 1937 with the help of Lyman native Horace Cousens, who upon his death bequeathed the town $20,000 to be used for educational purposes. An addition was built on to the school in 1965.

The building was used as a school until 2007. In 2008, the town purchased the building, along with its accompanying seven acres, from the Regional School Unit for $21,755, and has yet to come up with a permanent plan to use the property.

A drain to keep water out of the basement and a new roof were installed in 2011 to help keep the building from further deterioration. In 2014, the town received a Brownsfield grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and paid $40,000 in matching funds, using the money to remove hazardous material, install new windows and tiles, and paint walls.

A town ad hoc committee was formed in the spring to examine costs associated with a potential restoration of the nearly 80-year-old building.

According to committee members, the town has spent more than $131,000 since it purchased the building for general maintenance.

“We’ve been financially supporting this for eight years,” said Select Board Clerk Marie Nikel, who also serves on the ad hoc committee. “Now it’s time for the town to decide what to do with it.”

Committee members believe the best use for the building would be to use it for the new town hall.

Local builder Nate Poissant, also on the committee, said prior to his work on the committee he had driven by the building “so many times” and was curious to see what it looked like inside.

Like other members of the committee, Poissant is drawn to the details of the building – the wood floors, the display cabinets in the hallway that once held student awards and artwork, the stage where many school performances were held and the closets of classrooms where students once hung up their coats at the beginning of the school day.

“It has a lot of natural character and charm,” said Poissant.

The former school has about three times the space of the current town hall, said Poissant.

The current town hall, located at 11 South Waterboro Road, is too small to meet the needs of the town, say committee members, with limited meeting and storage space, and cramped offices.

Poissant said the building has a lot of historical significance to the town and brings a sense of nostalgia to many people, but the decision that it should be transformed into a new town hall isn’t just emotional.

He said numbers have been crunched, and moving the town offices into the former school would be an economically feasible option for municipal office space that would meet the needs of the town for many years.

The former school building is about three times the size of the current town hall, and could be used not only for town offices and meeting space, but also as a community center with potential for a senior gathering space, an office for the historical society, a food pantry and a designated emergency shelter.

The property also has room for plenty of parking space, and includes an adjoining ballfield, which is used for Little League games and other sports functions.

Poissant said the envisioned use of the combined town office and community function space keeps with Cousens’ request that the building be used for educational purposes.

On Nov. 8, residents will vote on three questions related to the former Cousens School building. One question will ask voters whether they want the town to renovate the Cousens School building to be used as a town hall and community center. Another question will ask residents whether to fund about $1.1 million worth of renovations for the building by withdrawing $250,000 from the town’s surplus funds and allowing the town to go out and bond for $893,000. The last question would authorize the select board to sell the existing town hall and use the proceeds to help pay off the Cousens School bond debt.

Residents can give input on the proposed plan for the building at a public hearing at town hall at 7 p.m. Oct. 11. An open house will be held at the former school building from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 23.

Committee members say the impact to taxpayers if the town approved the proposal to fund the renovation would be $10 a year for every $100,000 of assessed property value. This could be offset by money the town would make if it were to sell the current town hall property, which is assessed at about $488,000.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com.

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