The Camden Select Board issued a message of support Jan. 23 for the SAD 28 School board's efforts to preserve and repurpose the Mary E. Taylor building on Knowlton Street.

MET has served as a school building for nearly 100 years, most recently as part of the Camden-Rockport Middle School.

The Select Board vote of support follows months of debate at school board meetings, and within the community, about preserving versus demolishing the MET building. Board members said Jan. 23 that members of the community are contacting them to talk about the issue, stopping them in the supermarket and on the street, expressing opinions on both sides, and asking about the select board's position on the future of MET.

Board member Alison McKellar said she wants the Camden Select Board to show general support for assisting the school board with the MET building, and to support specific proposals to preserve and use the building. She said a common theme she hears from members of the community and school board members she has talked to is a desire for the town and school district to work together. McKellar said that if in the future the school board wanted to offer the MET building to the town, she wants the Select Board to be willing to discuss this.

Board chairman John French thanked the school board for their work, and expressed respect for their decisions, "whatever their decision-making process is." He would like to see people back away from adversarial positions and work together.

"I don't want to see the community be the financier, or maintain the building," he said. "The voters spoke, but I'm all for being a helping hand in any way we can. If they [SAD 28 board] want us to assist, or if we can help them in the process."

French said, "It's a good building. One of the best we have." While he likes what Steel House, a coworking and maker space in Rockland, is doing, he is not sure about commercial uses at MET, which is located in a residential area.

"We have to work together on this," he said. "We need to tone back the emails, Facebook, and talk to each other. These are all great people. They have the children in mind."

Board member Marc Ratner said he is "inĀ favor of seeing what we can do to help. My only concern with the town taking ownership is that there is a viable plan so that it does not become an economic hardship on the town."

Board member Jenna Lookner said she believes it is important for the Select Board to offer its support to the school board. She said she hears from people everyday who want to know what the Select Board is doing about MET, and who share perspectives on both sides of the issue.

"We have an obligation to the taxpayers, and to work with the school board and offer them support in their decision-making process as best we're able," Lookner said.

She recommended "a show of our desire to work with them as a team in the best interest of the community." She said there is a lot of interest in the community, and that this was demonstrated at a Jan. 10 school board meeting when many people spoke about their support for use of MET.

Lookner suggested the board authorize Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell to send a letter of support to the school board.

Board member Bob Falciani spoke in favor of a Select Board position supporting preservation of MET. He read a statement of support for repurposing and preserving the building, as long as it did not impact construction of the new middle school, including the town assuming temporary ownership of the building if needed. He pointed out that preservation would save the community the cost of demolishing the building. Falciani said it was unlikely the building would be offered to the town, and that many steps would have to be taken before that could occur.

After Falciani read the statement, Ratner said he supported "the best decision," including repurposing, but questioned the language Falciani suggested. Ratner said he didn't have enough information to support one option or another, because the options were not yet on the table, and he did not want to interfere with school board decisions. He said he generally supports repurposing the building, but has many concerns, such as the traffic and lack of parking on Knowlton Street, and how neighbors feel about any proposal.

Caler-Bell suggested a motion changing the language to the select board "supporting the school board's efforts" to preserve and repurpose MET. The board voted unanimously for Caler-Bell to communicate this support to the SAD 28 board.

On Jan. 24, the day after the Select Board meeting, the SAD 28 school board voted to pave the way for a public vote on preserving the MET building for school district uses and possibly for other occupants.