University of Maine System officials voted Tuesday to allow the University of Southern Maine to move forward with a plan to sell or transfer the Stone House in Freeport, as long as it works with the Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation on the fate of the mansion designed by John Calvin Stevens.

“We want to be completely transparent on this as we move forward,” said Richard Campbell, USM’s chief financial officer.

USM received the Stone House in 1985 as part of a larger gift from the family of Eleanor Houston Smith. The house is now used about 40 days a year, primarily for a master’s degree program in creative writing. Earlier this year USM officials, facing a financial crisis, announced plans to sell it, to save money they would otherwise need for annual operating costs and $8.5 million in needed updates.

The finance and facilities committee of the UMaine System’s board of trustees put off a vote on the matter in late June, after Smith’s daughter, Sallie Smith, questioned the sale of the house, saying the decision was up to the foundation for Wolfe’s Neck Farm, where the house is located.

The committee unanimously approved an amended proposal Tuesday, with new language to make it clear that USM must work with the foundation to dispose of the house, which the town of Freeport has assessed at $1.15 million.

Committee members approved the proposal for a “sale or other transfer” of the property “following a public engagement process and subject to the written concurrence of the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation.”

Any final agreement also will need approval from the university system’s financial and legal officials.

Campbell said he and other USM and system officials have met with Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation officials to discuss Stone House. “(The meetings) gave us the opportunity to clear up some confusion and to assure that everyone was on the same page,” he said, noting that foundation board President Tom Whelan wrote a letter in support of the proposal.

“The Board takes its role in directing the appropriate disposition of the Stone House very seriously and appreciates the collaborative and communicative approach currently being taken by USM/UMS,” Whelan wrote on Aug. 5.

In 1985, the Smiths gave USM the Stone House and the 600-plus-acre Wolfe’s Neck Farm. In 1997, the farm was transferred to its current operator, the nonprofit Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation.

The idea of the sale was first raised this spring as USM announced plans to lay off employees and cut academic programs to close a $14 million gap in the $134 million budget.

Campbell said Tuesday that it could take as long as a year to determine what will happen to Stone House, and that campus officials will keep the trustees briefed.


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