Residents and town officials convened at the Waldoboro town office to discuss the future of the A.D. Gray School and come up with ideas for what to do with the vacant structure Tuesday, May 17.
In an effort to gauge interest and find a path forward for the town-owned property, participants split into work groups for an open discussion emphasizing what the community envisions for the future of the property and the building.
The A.D. Gray building has sat vacant since the middle school closed in 2009.
The evening’s meeting began with a presentation from Waldoboro Planning and Development Director Emily Reinholt and Recreation Director Kyle Santheson on the history of the former A.D. Gray Middle School.
After the presentation, those in attendance broke into six groups of six to discuss potential options for the structure.
A number of ideas were floated in each group, with proposals ranging from general suggestions, such as keeping the building, trying to sell the property, or demolishing the structure; to more specific initiatives, ranging from making use of the building for elderly housing, a commercial kitchen, or a community center.
Throughout the conversations occurring simultaneously in different areas of the town office, the impact on taxpayers and the property’s impact on attracting jobs proved to be common themes.
After the brainstorming session, one member of each of the six groups presented on the ideas formulated during the dialogue.
Santheson said he hoped the evening’s presentations would give the town an idea going forward of what residents want, whether it was to sell, repurpose, or demolish the structure to recoup some of the costs spent on the building over the years.
“Through this brainstorming session we’ll see if we can find some commonality,” Santheson said.
Santheson said a lot of ideas had been offered up on what to do with the A.D. Gray School and the meeting provided the town with an opportunity to see what direction residents want to go.
“It’s healthy to have conversations like this. Instead of the town just making decisions, it’s nice to have the ideas come from the people,” Santheson said.
Reinholt said following the meeting she would develop a report to give to the Waldoboro Board of Selectmen based on the interest expressed at the meeting.
“My hope is that from here I will have a strong enough grasp of what the community wants,” Reinholt said.
She also said by knowing specific areas of interest it would help the town find community-oriented developers in the event citizens are in favor of working on the property.
“Some developers look for community-oriented projects. Revenue is obviously important to them, but community is too, and they are really willing to work to help out,” Reinholt said.
In 2012, the Central Lincoln County YMCA, based in Damariscotta, entered an agreement with the town of Waldoboro to repurpose the building, which is approximately 30,000 square feet and was built in 1935, as a YMCA facility.
However, the YMCA withdrew from the project in 2015, following a vote from the YMCA’s board to terminate its lease.
Before the withdrawal, Waldoboro voters approved a lease/transfer of ownership of the school to the CLC Y in September 2012, according to The Lincoln County News archives.
The agreement was for a five-year lease, after which ownership would transfer to the YMCA. If the venture failed within the first five years, ownership would return to the town.
During the same referendum, citizens approved placing funds from the Anne Gay Bailey trust in escrow to be used for improvements to the school building.
Roughly $211,850.71 was spent out of the fund on improvements to the building, such as a new roof, asbestos removal, and lighting in the parking lot.
A capital campaign started in 2012 to raise $2 million to transform the building into the desired recreational facility.
At a meeting in November 2014, it was estimated that $1.9 million beyond the money already spent on the building and grounds would be needed to complete the renovations.
Additionally, the YMCA would need an estimated $200,000 for fitness equipment, telephones, and other soft costs.
According to a May 2015 press release from the CLC Y, the board’s vote to terminate the lease was based on multiple factors, including the YMCA’s commitment to its Damariscotta location, predating the Waldoboro venture; whether adding a branch in Waldoboro would promote fiscal viability; and, with the exception of handful of dedicated volunteers, there was not enough support from the community to sustain a facility.
According to LCN archives, roughly $73,000 was raised by the YMCA in support of the proposed Waldoboro project with the donations being returned to donors or put toward other projects at the preference of those who gave contributions.
The CLC Y has continued to offer services in Waldoboro through its YMCA Without Walls program run out of Old Number 9 on Friendship Street in the village.