Looking ahead at Lincoln Street Center
Rockland — The just-post-Civil War-era school building on Lincoln Street looks little changed on the outside, but this summer will return to life on the inside as Lincoln Street Center, no longer a nonprofit entity but still focused on the arts and education.
The beloved building was shuttered and edging toward real structural problems in December 2012 when Orchid LLC acquired it from the City of Rockland. That winter, principal partner Mario Abaldo and his Abaldo Enterprises family design/build team focused on averting disaster, by replacing most of the roofing and dealing with the infamous hot water boiler in the basement. Then the task of ripping down falling plaster, patching walls, stripping floors and reworking the layout of three floors could begin — a task still somewhat in process. It is clear Abaldo takes pride in restoring the historical … even where hidden from sight. Saving the boiler was a particular accomplishment.
“We ripped it all apart, cleaned and rebuilt it — it’s a beautiful, operating machine. All it needs is for someone to take five minutes a day [to maintain it],” he said on a recent rainy day.
That someone is Abe Knight of Union, who came on as site manager in October. Knight served in the same capacity for a while at Union’s Thompson Community Center, another rescued old school; and also ran the dances at that town’s Masonic Lodge for years. The latter gig promises future fun at Lincoln Street Center; Saturday, May 17, he will bring Waldo County’s Frye Mountain Band with Dick Philbrook to the center for a public dance.
Dances in the basement-level former gym and events in the second-floor theater have already begun to take place. The theater, familiar stomping grounds for thousands of local folk who attended school in the building, is repaired, repainted and reclaimed for both audiences and performers, including the balcony seating.
“We took up all the seats in the theater and rebuilt them, casting hardware so they’re perfect,” said Abaldo.
The theater has 350 fixed seats and can accommodate as many as 550 with temporary seating. A number of rows in front were removed, as was the temporary thrust, so the space can be used in a variety of ways, filled in for a traditional theater seating layout or utilizing the wooden floor between stage and fixed seats as performance area or for café seating. Across the hall, a reception room and adjacent art gallery are in the works, the latter smaller than previous incarnations and available for tenant artists to mount shows in.
Meanwhile, down in the basement, the gym has been cleared out and completely repainted. The old Rockland District High School tiger remains in place on the back end — alumni will be glad to know that the school’s history collection will remain in the building, moving to a room on the gym level. Knight said he looks forward to working with class reunion organizers to bring such events to the center. Although the gym is usable now, in coming months Abaldo and his team will be tackling the hardwood floor.
“We’re going to grind it back to flush; the original floor will look brand new,” Abaldo said.
So brand new it is still in the works is something the building has needed for years — a wheelchair access elevator. Making such an installation is one of the more costly and structurally daunting renovations to an historical building; Abaldo said it was a real excavation. There also is a ramp to the hallway from the driveway entrance; other public entrances to the center will be the traditional one on Lincoln Street and the one off the back parking lot used by previous owners.
Also on the basement level will be a complete woodworking studio, a clay studio with kilns and a glass-working studio. The original locker room bathrooms on this level have been reworked and are in use; bathrooms on the other floors have been roughed in and will be finished as the months progress.
The first floor is what Abaldo calls the activities level, studios for martial arts, dance, yoga and the like. The long studio at the end has been retained, and Knight said he could see small concerts and dances, coffee houses and open mics as a good fit. Where Watershed School had its common room, plans are in place for a commercial kitchen that could be used for catering, cooking classes and more. On the second floor, there is a small café room with self-serve coffee and snacks for tenants.
“It could be used for concessions during events, as well; everything is flexible,” said Abaldo.
The studios — various sizes, as Abaldo and his crew have created new spaces within some of the larger classrooms — on the second floor are primarily aimed at long-term rental by artists and perhaps half of the first-floor spaces are aimed at that as well.
“Unlike others, we are not nonprofit, we don’t have a board to go to. We do want to provide not just private art space, but a place for educational and community events,” said Abaldo, who said he sees value in bringing the arts and business sectors together in way they might not otherwise rub shoulders.
While Lincoln Street Center is a business proposition — Abaldo is currently renovating two other “enormous historical buildings,” one in Waterville and one in Mineral Wells, Texas — there is an affiliated nonprofit component, Northland Village Foundation.
“The nonprofit will host cultural events. This year, we have a lecture series with speakers set to come from as far away as L.A. and Florida,” said Abaldo, who moved to the Midcoast from California three years ago.
Another nonprofit, The Old School, is eyeing Lincoln Street Center as a base, said Abaldo. As the center gets up and running, Northland Village Foundation plans to fundraise for scholarships for local students looking to study music and art.
“We’ll give them a taste, then help them go on,” he said.
This summer will give everyone a taste of what Lincoln Street Center will bring to the community. Abaldo and Knight have started taking people through the building and there are a number of tenants already lined up. A variety of leases are available, and Knight is looking to speak with anyone interested in both studio and event rentals. Once the doors are open — they are aiming for the beginning of June — Knight will be on hand weekdays in the building’s office.
In addition to Saturday’s country dance, the upcoming schedule also includes one-time tenant Rockland School of Ballet’s spring recital and an art expo. The center’s website, lincolnstreetcenter.com, is still under construction but will have an events calendar when it goes live.
Lincoln Street Center, physically and conceptually, is still under construction too. Abaldo has enjoyed the fine work of restoring the building’s wood trim — the art gallery was filled to this day by smooth-as-silk moldings ready for return — but there is a long list of less artful improvements he and his team will be working their way through including window upgrades, air conditioning for the theater, better lighting and more. It is time, however, to open the doors.
For more information, contact Abaldo at 691-8892 or Mario@abaldoenterprises.com; or call Knight at 712-1314.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for more than 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.