A handful of community members shared their views Oct. 1 at a public hearing on SAD 28's $4.9 million proposal to renovate and repurpose the Mary E. Taylor building.

The meeting was also livestreamed to viewers at home, and can be watched by accessing the town of Camden website at camdenmaine.gov.

Camden and Rockport voters will decide the building's fate at the polls Nov. 6. If the ballot measure is rejected by voters, MET will be scheduled for demolition.

School district officials presented the reasons for their proposal to preserve and renovate MET in 2020, after the new Camden Rockport Middle School is completed, and the remainder of the current middle school is torn down. They also presented the pros and cons and finances of the proposal.

Matthew Dailey, chairman of the SAD 28 board, provided background to explain the school district's proposal.

In 2017, Camden and Rockport voters approved a bond to build the middle school, which included the language that the existing middle school facility would be demolished, he said. At the time, community members urged SAD 28 to consider other possible uses for the building, for reasons including its preservation. SAD 28 received one proposal from Michael Mullins to purchase the building and renovate it into makers space and a mix of not-for-profit uses. SAD 28 rejected that proposal.

Dailey said that based on the continued community interest in the reuse of MET, "the board directed an analysis of conditions and costs of renovating MET building. The result of that analysis is why were are here talking about a bond to repurpose the building."

Those in favor of repurposing the building also called for a direct vote on whether MET should be renovated or demolished, he explained.

The three-story MET building currently serves as the classroom wing for some of the middle school's students, and will no longer be needed as a school, when construction of the new school is completed.

School superintendent Maria Libby has confirmed that if voters defeat the $4.9 million referendum, MET will be demolished.

If voters approve the referendum, MET renovation will create office space on the top floor for school district administration, and on the first floor, classrooms and kitchen space for the Camden Hills Regional High School's Zenith program. The lower floor, which is a daylight basement, will be devoted to commercial space for lease. Day-time adult education classes in the upper two floors are also a possible use.

The building renovation includes all new heating, ventilation and electrical systems, because those systems are now located in an adjacent area of the current middle school building, which will be demolished. A new elevator is needed, as the current elevator has reached the end of its useful life, according to Oak Point architect, Tyler Barter. The new elevator will maintain the building's ADA compliance, while the entrance steps will be modified to enter into compliance with ADA requirements, according to Barter. Plumbing improvements and a new bathroom will be added to the lower floor, which will be rough finished and remain as a large open space, he said.

Camden and Rockport residents will repay the $4.9 million bond over a 20-year period, through their property taxes. Libby said the project will not qualify for the lower rates that apply to school bonds. The estimated interest rate is currently around 4 percent, she said. The estimated repayment per $100,000 of property valuation is $19.

The pros of renovating MET were stated as: maintaining use of a historic school building, preservation and reuse, and addressing district needs. The cons were listed as higher cost to renovate the building, higher operating costs and that there would no practice field for middle school sports.

Libby said the pros and cons of proximity to downtown Camden were mixed from her perspective. She likes to hold meetings with community members at downtown businesses, she said, but finds she spends a lot of time in her car traveling to the high school and elementary schools, located on Route 90 in Rockport. Similarly, the proximity to downtown Camden benefits Zenith students, but it also prevents them from easily attending classes at the high school.

Carole Gartley, SAD 28 board and MET Repurposing Committee member, spoke about how the committee spent a lot of time thinking about non-school uses that would be complementary to the school property.

Barter explained that the zoning change supported by the Camden Planning Board, and going to a public vote in Camden on Nov. 6, will allow the same commercial uses in the MET building, which are allowed in an neighboring zoning district.

Alison McKellar, member of the Camden Select Board and Repurposing Committee, added that the zoning change, if approved, requires that any commercial uses in the MET building would also have to be approved by the Zoning Board of appeals as a special exception

"There are many layers of protection for the neighborhood," she said.

Adam Kohlstrom said of the proposal, "In the end, we're going to have a building that's too large for the needs. It's an older building, and residents of Camden and Rockport will have to pay for it."

He asked about the proposal he has heard about to build administration office space and Zenith classroom space on the high school property, in a modern, energy-efficient building of the right size. He asked if that was done, would the members of the Five Town CSD, Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville, pay for that construction, as opposed to having Camden and Rockport pay for the SAD 28 renovation of MET. He asked if the cost analysis comparing the two alternative projects had been done.

Dailey explained that several years ago, a cost analysis was done which determined that the best option to house administration and Zenith was to construct a new building on property the school owns, at the high school. He said the 20-year cost was estimated several years ago to be $2 to 3 million dollars.

What we're proposing now has historic interest, but is not the most cost-effective. If the bond fails, we'll do another analysis, he added.

Owen Casas brought up the bus barn building, where school administrative offices are now located. He asked about the costs of renovating the bus barn for its original purpose if administrative offices move out.

Dailey replied that the cost was estimated to be $200,000 and believed that had not changed. Earlier in the meeting Libby explained that a second bus bay was needed and would be constructed within the building.

Mike Sabatini, Rockport, a project engineer and member of the MET Repurposing Committee, asked the SAD 28 board to place more value on the saving of the building in advance of the Nov. 6 vote.

The school district's needs will grow, he said. Even though MET is larger than the building now needed, he believes it will provide space the district will need in the future. While the cost of renovating MET is higher when compared with a new building at the high school for district administration and Zenith, the revenue from the commericial lease will offset some of the higher cost, he said.

Pat Skaling, who serves on Camden's Historic Resources Committee, thanked MET Repurposing Committee members "for their time and clear thinking." She also thanked the school board, noting that "there were so many people who supported the MET building from the beginning."

"We are so thankful you have given us the time to support this or not," she said.

Michael Skaling said that the school board's analysis of the renovation needs explained the price tag of the renovation.

"I see you are creating a structure that will be with us for another long time," he said." I'd encourage people to choose this. This town is based on its history, that's what keeps it going and why people come here."