The city is looking at the McLain School as a possible new home for municipal offices.

City Manager Tom Luttrell said Wednesday, Sept. 25, he plans to contract with an architect to study the potential layouts and costs for converting the three-story brick building into municipal office space.

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald said Tuesday he expected the McLain School would be turned over to the city sometime after the current school year.

McDonald he does not think the school board will take up the issue of retaining the building.

The RSU 13 Board voted unanimously in January 2017 to offer the building to Rockland. The Rockland City Council voted in May 2017 to accept the building once the district no longer had a use for the property.

The school district still owns the building and there has been no transfer of the property.

State law requires school districts to offer school buildings to the municipalities in which they are located when the buildings are vacated.

The city manager said that staff and some councilors have suggested that the building be looked at for a city hall.

In April, the City Council discussed but took no vote on studying acquisition of the Bok building owned by Pen Bay Medical Center next to the public library. Luttrell said Sept. 25, however, the health care organization has taken the property off the market. At that meeting, the council also expressed interest in use of the McLain School as a city hall.

The current City Hall needs work on the roof, driveway and interior, including carpeting, Luttrell said. The property at 270 Pleasant St. includes nearly 14 acres. The plan if the city moved to McLain would be to sell the Pleasant Street property.

The building and property are assessed at nearly $1.1 million.

At the April 1 meeting, Councilors Valli Geiger and Amelia Magjik (who has since resigned her seat effective Sept. 30) said they wanted City Hall located closer to downtown. Magjik said the current location was like a thumb on a mitten.

The city bought the current City Hall building and property in October 1995 from Camden and Rockland Water Co. City offices relocated there in the spring of 1996, moving out of the former train station, where the Trackside Station restaurant is now located at the intersection of Union and Pleasant streets.

In terms of the school district, McDonald acknowledged that there are more demands for space than the district had expected, but but said he does not expect the school board to reconsider its decision to turn McLain over to the city.

RSU 13 took over after-school programs from Youthlinks in June after its parent corporation, Broadreach, closed in May and filed for bankruptcy. RSU 13 hired the staff who operated those programs and that has taken up three classrooms at the South Elementary School.

The district has planned to move its administrative offices and information technology operations out of McLain School and relocate to South School. McDonald said he did not want to make such a move until building construction projects in the district were completed.

During the past year, the district has completed construction of the Ash Point Community School in Owls Head and an expansion and renovation to Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston. The addition and renovations to Oceanside High School in Rockland are nearing completion.

The superintendent said the city is in no hurry to get the McLain building, and the district will remain in it through the 2019-2020 school year.

In the meantime, the superintendent said, the district will study options to meet its space needs. He said renovations to the South School may be one of those options.

The city created a volunteer committee in April 2018 to consider possible reuses of the McLain building for housing.

The city housing committee sent out a request to potential developers earlier this year on the possibility of developing the McLain building. There were four responses — three for housing, and one from a nonprofit gallery/foundation, with shared living space for artists.

The volunteer McLain housing committee received proposals in May: from Penquis CAPĀ  for affordable rental housing units for people 55 years old and older; Avesta Housing of Portland for affordable housing for the same age group; and Wishrock, a national company, for 23 affordable housing units in the building. The Ellis Beauregard Ellis Foundaton has also expressed interest in the building for housing and studios for artists.

At a May meeting of the city committee studying uses for the McLain School, committee member Kathy Lane said there were exciting opportunities for the future use of the building, but that there were also significant challenges.

The existing building could be converted into 22 to 25 units of housing, Lane said, or more if an addition were made to the building.

The large foyer on each of the three main floors makes it more challenging to do a conversion while maintaining the historic character of the interior, she said.

The school building is not suitable for high-end residential condominium units, Lane maintained, because there are no water views from there.

The building, however, is eligible for state and federal tax credits of up to 45 percent combined, committee member and former longtime Rockland Community Development Director Rodney Lynch said at the May meeting. The building is in a historic residential district and is close to the downtown, he said.

Councilor Valli Geiger said at the May meeting that the cost to convert the property into housing — perhaps senior housing — is estimated at $10 million to $12 million. She saidĀ  costs for building materials are very high now, as is labor, because of a shortage of workers.

The three-story brick building was built in 1896 and served for nearly a century as a neighborhood elementary school. For about 20 years, the building has been used for administrative offices and alternative education programs.