A group of concerned citizens has been given the green light by School Administrative District 28 to come up with concrete plans for uses of the Mary E. Taylor building and save it from demolition.

About 50 residents attended a special School Board meeting July 13 at Camden-Rockport Middle School to discuss the historic portion of the school, built in 1925. The building is currently part of CRMS, but when voters approved a $25 million bond article in June to build a new school, the spending package did not include plans to renovate the building. The meeting lasted about two and a half hours.

The board discussed the possibility of renovating the building for district use, the possibility of transferring ownership to the town with restrictions, whether to sell to a private entity with restrictions or to demolish the building, but salvage parts of it, which is the current plan.

Local developers Stuart Smith and his son, Tyler Smith, made several comments and asked a variety of questions during the meeting. Stuart Smith expressed interest in working with a small group of no more than six to eight people to come up with ideas for alternative uses.

The School Board gave an informal go-ahead to the group, or any group that would like to come up with concrete proposals for the building's future use. Ideas must be brought to the board by October, because the district is expected to begin the permitting process around that time.

Camden Select Board member Alison McKellar said following the meeting that in addition to herself and the Smiths, Robin McIntosh, who is a member of the Camden Community Economic Development Advisory Committee, Eric Kangas, and a few others all have strong interest in preserving the building. McKellar said she is unsure at this point if the group will be a formal committee endorsed by the Select Board or if it will be something more informal, but she expects it will be discussed further at an upcoming Select Board meeting.

SAD 28 Board Chairman Matt Dailey said the board is open to ideas for uses for the building, but stressed that any alternative uses must be compatible with education uses, since the building is located on the middle school campus. The plan also cannot interfere with the timeline to build the new school, the district will not go back to taxpayers to ask for more funding for a renovation, and any project has to meet all legal ramifications, he said.

“If there is energy and desire to do that, I'm all for that,” Dailey said, encouraging people to go make it happen, but added the superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal and assistant principal cannot be involved, because their "plates are full as it is."

The district currently houses the Central Office and Zenith, the district's alternative education program, in the Bus Barn, but both are in need of more space. A previous plan, which failed at the polls in February 2015, included renovations to MET to house those two components. However, Dailey and board member Lynda Chilton stated after hearing from a number of residents following the 2015 vote that they heard the cost was too high, and that is why the renovation was removed from this proposal.

The district passed out a sheet with information at the meeting, stating the cost to renovate the building for district use is between $3.8 million and $4 million, but Stuart Smith said he believes a renovation could be done for far less than that.

About six and a half years ago, he undertook a renovation of the Shepard Block in Rockport Village and said the building is larger in square footage than MET, and that project cost slightly less than $1.7 million. The renovation included bringing the building completely up to code, installing an elevator, ensuring it was handicapped-accessible and putting in a restaurant. Smith said he realizes that figure is just an estimate from the architect, but he said the cost would ultimately depend on the use and he believes that cost is high for this type of project.

“When you start throwing out numbers like $3.8 million to $4 million, those are not what I would call realistic numbers, and I certainly would not make a decision based on those numbers until you decide exactly what you are going to put in the building," Smith said.

He also added that the building could be restored as a historic tax credit project, which would come with state and federal tax credits to bring the cost down even further.

If a new plan comes forward to save the building, it will have to go back to voters in November to approve any changes, district officials said.

At a July 11 Select Board workshop to discuss MET, McIntosh recommended the Select Board appoint an ad hoc committee, which would be part of CEDAC, and charge the committee to seek community input on how MET can be used.

Selectmen John French, Bob Falciani and McKellar spoke in favor of exploring the use of the MET building. Board member Jenna Lookner said by email that she "wholeheartedly supports the investigation for preservation/future use of the building."

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.