Friday, May 24, 2013
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling email@example.com
UNITY -- Town officials expect to receive the deed to the old high school this week, marking the end of an extended search for a new Town Office.
Selectmen plan to demolish the existing building and build a structure on the 1.5-acre property over the coming months, Selectman Chris Rossignol said.
"We're hoping to be in the building before this coming fall," he said.
Once the deed is in hand, Rossignol said, town officials will begin the work of gathering design proposals and cost estimates for the project.
Rossignol said the town also has to decide how to finance the project.
After an extended period of research, he said, a town committee tasked with siting a new Town Office "wasn't having much luck finding property that seemed to fit what the town was looking for."
The property, which is between Unity Elementary School and the Down East Credit Union on School Street, was given to the town by School Administrative District 3, which consists of the towns of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo.
The school district's board of directors approved the deal by unanimous vote Monday, Superintendent Heather Perry said.
Perry said the district moved its central offices out of the building in 2009, when handicapped-accessibility issues prevented its continued use.
The district's administrative offices are now in Unity Elementary School, which also has hosted the Town Office since October 2011.
Once the Town Office is moved out of the elementary school, Perry said, the space will be used to store files that are in the old high school.
In June, town voters approved the concept of acquiring the property and building on it. It is an appealing location, Rossignol said, because it is centrally located and won't affect property tax revenue, as it is not on the tax rolls.
He said the deal is also advantageous to the school district because the vacant, aging structure represented a liability that would have to be torn down at some point.
"Hopefully, we can find a salvage company that will make some use of it," he said.
Perry said that the deal is a "great collaboration" between the town and the school district, which otherwise would have had to pay money to demolish the former high school.
For 16 years, the Town Office was at Clifford Common at an annual cost of $1, under a 99-year-lease established by philanthropist Bert Clifford. When the property changed hands, it was discovered that the lease had not been filed properly, and the new owner, Johnson Property Management, decided to charge the town rent instead of maintaining the $1-per-year agreement.
Rather than pay rent, the town moved into the elementary school.
In March 2012, voters rejected a proposal to build a Town Office on town-owned property near the fire station, at a cost of $420,000.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287