SKOWHEGAN — It was a long “perp walk” 25 years ago for inmates from the old county jail on Court Street to the old District Court on Water Street. The former jail is now the Somerset Grist Mill with 11 employees producing 700 to 1,000 tons of grain annually.

The District Court moved to a new building on Court Street in 1997. The old one has been empty ever since.

If all goes well for officials at the Cornville Regional Charter School, the former courtroom with vintage theater seating, high ceilings, transoms and ornate woodwork above Holland’s Variety Drug will become offices, classrooms and conference rooms for a new downtown charter high school.

The meeting and public hearing with school officials and the Skowhegan Planning Board is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Town Office on Water Street. The site plan application has been submitted by Wentworth Partners & Associates Inc. and Steve Govoni, of Skowhegan, on behalf of the Cornville Regional Charter School.

Travis Works, executive director of the charter school, said they are in the process of buying the entire building from Kevin Holland, owner of Variety Drug, which moved to High Street a couple of years ago. Works said the school is borrowing and financing the $250,000 needed to purchase the building, which also includes ground floor space occupied by the Skills Inc. thrift store and Ginny’s Natural Corner health food store, both of which will remain in place.

The Cornville Regional Charter School, which became Maine’s first elementary charter school in 2012, was given state approval by the Maine Charter Commission in December to add a charter high school and pre-kindergarten classes to its program. The school aims to be the first pre-K through grade 12 charter school in the state.

The building was constructed in 1905, and Works said the plan is to restore the interior and exterior to its original beauty, but with folding glass walls for classrooms downstairs in the former drug store and an elevator that will go to the second floor and all the way to the roof top, where gardens are proposed.

“It’s going to be 1905 meeting the 21st century,” he said. “We’re going to be bringing it back to the original. Everything is being re-shifted. It’s going to have full historical renovations.”

The former drug store, with entrances on both Water Street and Commercial Street, has 5,000 square feet of space. Walls can be used to designate five classrooms or be folded down to open the area up for what Works calls collaborative work space.

“We’ll have glass folding walls. The reason is that we run on a metaphor that learning is transparent, so we want to keep that theme,” he said. “You can create different size rooms at any different point. Kids can work in a flexible work environment and groups can assemble.”

Science, technology, engineering and math will share space with the conventional three Rs.

Upstairs, where the court, district attorney’s office, probate judge and lawyers’ offices were located, is 10,000 square feet of space, all of which will be used for school offices and student project rooms.

Works said the main entrance to the school will be on the Commercial Street side, which is quieter and has less traffic and a crosswalk with caution lights on demand. Students, parents and visitors will enter the school from there, where the main office for the principal and administrative assistant and lobby will be.

A set of stairs leading up to the former courtroom will be removed and replaced with a new stairwell that meets today’s codes.

Works noted that, in the style of a charter school, the classrooms will not be designated in grade levels for high school, such as the conventional 10th, 11th and 12th grades, but will be organized according to advancement of students age 12-20.


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