Outside the A.D. Gray School on Friday, Dec. 15, members of the Waldoboro community gathered alongside representatives of Volunteers of America to pay tribute to one chapter of the property’s history and welcome another together.
“This is bittersweet for a lot of us, but we always have to look forward, to the future,” said Waldoboro Select Board member and A.D. Gray alum John Blodgett.
As attendees gathered beneath the “Waldoboro High School” sign at the front of the school, the clanging of crowbars and hammers was audible from just around the corner, where workers were already beginning the process of demolishing the 88-year-old building.
The school, named after former Superintendent Alvra D. Gray, graduated its first class of Waldoboro scholars in 1936 and its last in 2008, according to Tanya Blodgett, an administrative assistant at the Waldoboro town office, whose grandmother attended the school in its first year and whose daughter attended it in its last. The building has sat vacant since its student body was transferred to the newly constructed Medomak Middle School in 2008.
While Waldoboro residents and Volunteers of America originally planned in 2020 to convert the historic building into affordable senior housing, a structural engineering assessment conducted in 2021 revealed that the building had significant structural issues, making renovation unattainably costly, Volunteers of America and Waldoboro Town Manager Julie Keizer said at the time.
The plan was then adjusted to encompass the construction of a new building on the site which would still hold affordable senior housing.
“I can’t think of a better site for this project,” said Volunteers of America Northern New England Chief Operating Officer Terry Baldwin, who noted that the “thoughtful, engaged, and perhaps a little feisty at times” Waldoboro community has been eagerly involved throughout the planning phase of the project.
The incoming building will contain 36 affordable units specified for older adults.
Volunteers of America Northern New England Vice President of External Relations Michael Coon noted that the organization’s goal is for “older adults who have grown up here” to feel at home in the building.
“This could be their last home,” Coon said. “I want it to be their best.”
Affordable housing is much needed within Waldoboro, Keizer said while discussing the Dec. 15 ceremony at a select board meeting on Dec. 12.
Adding “36 units where our seniors … have the option of potentially living out their years and staying within the community that has wrapped their arms around them is huge,” Keizer said.
The process of reaching an agreement about the future of the site was far from easy, Keizer noted.
“There was a lot of rancor at times over this … but I’m just so proud of how this team managed to get to this point,” she said.
Keizer thanked Town Planner Max Johnstone, select board Chair Abden Simmons, and select board member Bob Butler for their work on the project.
“This is (the school’s) legacy … we need affordable housing,” said Simmons, who also was a student at A.D. Gray, on Dec. 15. “This is what I wanted to see.”
The Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission provided $108,000 toward the project through their affordable housing investment program. Affordable housing is something that Lincoln County is “desperately in need of,” said County Planner Emily Rabbe, who presented the check to Volunteers of America during Friday’s ceremony.
“We are especially excited that (the project) is going to be for older adults so that they can age in place and remain in Waldoboro,” Rabbe said.
Demolition of the building is expected to be fully underway by the end of the year, according to Brian Sites, Volunteers of America Northern New England vice president of business development and implementation. The wooden schoolhouse on the property will also be removed in a matter of days or weeks, he said.
Then, the lot will be filled and left empty as preparations continue ahead of construction. Acquiring funding is a significant part of what remains, Sites said. Volunteers of America will apply for both state and federal funding, such as from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program. How and when funding is secured will affect the construction timeline.
In the more immediate future, some residents are curiously awaiting the building’s demolition, hoping to rediscover a long-awaited time capsule. Word of mouth indicates that the capsule, containing photographs and mementos, was placed within the building’s cornerstone during construction in 1935, Waldoborough Historical Society Chair Bill Maxwell said.
Whether those rumors are true remains to be seen, but what’s more certain is that the legacy of the A.D. Gray School will continue to be felt in the community of Waldoboro, even as a new institution moves in to take its place.
According to Baldwin, Volunteers of America Northern New England is “really excited” to continue working with the town of Waldoboro and bring the project to life.
“We look forward to the decades ahead,” Baldwin said.