The former Winterhaven building on King St. in Saco. Thornton Academy is planning to convert the former assisted living facility to a student dormitory, if a necessary contract zone is approved by Saco City Council. //LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

The former Winterhaven building on King St. in Saco. Thornton Academy is planning to convert the former assisted living facility to a student dormitory, if a necessary contract zone is approved by Saco City Council. //LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

SACO — Thornton Academy is planning to create dormitory space at the former Winterhaven assisted living facility at 95 King St., pending City Council approval to amendments to a contract zone.

Thornton Academy is a private middle school and high school on Main Street. Middle and high school students from Arundel and Dayton and high school students from Saco attend the school through public contracts with local school departments, and other students pay tuition to attend.

The school introduced a boarding program in the fall of 2009 and currently has 162 students from a number of different countries. Of those, 112 live in dorms on campus and 50 more live in private homes in the community, according to Headmaster Rene Menard.

The school is in the process of building a new dormitory on campus and also has an agreement to buy the former Winterhaven assisted living facility a few blocks away from campus, said Menard. The new campus dormitory is anticipated to be completed by the beginning of the 2017- 2018 school year, and the King Street dorm could be ready as early as the beginning of the second semester of the current school year in January.

With the pending increase of dormitory space, the school’s goal would be to decrease the amount of placements with private families.

The King Street building would provide space for 18 students and a faculty family, said Menard.

Menard said there would be very little change needed to the building.

“The building is in excellent shape. It’s turnkey,” he said.

The building, when it operated as an assisted living facility, was under a contract zone with the city to allow it to operate in the residential zone.

In order for Thornton Academy to open a dorm there, the terms of the contract zone would need to be updated.

At a workshop Monday night, City Council discussed amending the contract zone and though no vote was taken, the general consensus was that the project was a positive one.

Mayor Roland “Ron” Michaud said he thought it was a “logical” reuse of the building.

“I think, frankly, it’s a good use of the facility,” he said.

The proposal would take the building off the tax roll as it would be used for the school. Councilor Nathan Johnston, though he was in favor of the project, said he thought Thornton should pay the city an annual fee in lieu of taxes, noting other properties the school has purchased and gotten off the tax roles.

Thornton Academy Board of Trustee member Bill Kany said the school is a value to the community, and costs less than the state average tuition. He said tuition from the boarding students offsets money lost due to declining local enrollment, and the school is able to provide quality programming and a high number of AP classes.

None of the other councilors present agreed the school should pay an annual fee, and the proposed amendments will move forward to the City Council for approval.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]


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