November 5, 2011

Unity school slated to become food hub

Morning Sentinel Staff

UNITY -- The former Unity Grammar School, vacant for more than 40 years, will be renovated to become part of a proposed downtown food hub.

The project will be made possible because of a $305,000 grant awarded by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to the town.

It is part of the state's Communities for Maine's Future Program, which targets downtown revitalization projects; 11grants totaling $3.5 million were awarded statewide.

A portion of the grant will be used to rehabilitate a second vacant building owned by Maine Farmland Trust at 38 School St., as well as to install a new roof on the Unity Community Center.

"This is great news for the town," said Tess Woods, executive director of Unity Barn Raisers, a local non-profit civic organization. "Those two buildings are ready for a little loving. Two vacant buildings will be put to good (use) and the community center will get a long-lasting metal roof."

Unity Barn Raisers said it would administer the grant on behalf of the town, which submitted the grant proposal in June after residents approved the concept at a public hearing.

Woods said the project would require approval by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and Unity Planning Board, and support from Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.

"We hope to be moving forward in January," said Woods.

Maine Farmland Trust intends to use its building at 38 School St. for offices and to expand space for food-related activities at the adjacent community center, according to information provided by the Unity Barn Raisers.

Maine Farmland Trust is also involved with the food hub proposed for the old grammar school, where Woods said local farmers would have space to sort produce, store it, pool their selling power and have retail space.

The $305,000 grant covers about 40 percent of the costs of the three projects. Woods said three nonprofit organizations -- Trillium Redevelopment, Maine Farmland Trust, and Unity Barn Raisers -- would contribute the remainder. The town of Unity will bear no costs, according to information released by the Barn Raisers.

Unity residents will vote whether to accept the funds at a public hearing and special town meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Unity Fire Station.

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