Renovations to the Dry Mills Schoolhouse are slated to begin this fall. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

GRAY — After years of preparations, it is almost time for renovations to the Dry Mills Schoolhouse to begin, finally giving the building a stable and secure future.

The building was built in 1857 and had its last class in 1959. But after it was moved to its current location near the Maine Wildlife Park in 1991, moisture seeping up from the ground began to damage the building.

“They probably just didn’t anticipate the change in environment. It sat at its original location since 1857 and didn’t have an issue,” said Town Council Chairwoman Sandra Carder. 

Students in the ExCel program, from left to right, Gretta Fundaro, Emma Belanger, Anna Adams and Noah Ehnstrom, will help renovate Dry Mills Schoolhouse this fall. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

The Dry Mills Schoolhouse Committee has been working since 2017 to raise the funds needed to lift the building and give it a new floor, a project that will begin in September.

The building will be jacked up while a professional vapor barrier is installed underneath, said Community Development Director Doug Webster. In addition, the installation of pressure-treated joists and additional ventilation will keep the space underneath the building dry. A new deck will be installed beneath the floor to support the building, and the antique flooring will be reused.

Webster said he has secured a moving contractor and is in the process of lining up a carpentry contract while he works on “who’s doing what.”

“In any project, that’s typically the most challenging piece – the interfaces between the respective sub-contractors. I’m working on the coordination of the respective pieces and not having the building in the air too long,” he said. 

The building was closed in 2015 for safety reasons, although it had previously been used as a museum.

“Everything kind of went dormant. The committee stopped meeting. We were waiting to see how we were going to come up with the estimated $60,000 that we needed,” Carder said.

It’s taken three years, but the funds have finally been accumulated, Webster said. The Town Council allocated $30,000 for the project in 2017, and an additional $35,000 will come from a bond package that was put together last year. The Dry Mills Schoolhouse Committee has raised another $9,000 for other projects and programs.  

Carder said one of the projects the committee is working on is a memory project made of stories and videos from the students who attended the Dry Mills Schoolhouse, or any one-room schoolhouse.

The Dry Mills Schoolhouse was built in 1857. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

I think there’s probably a lot of history still out there that people might be willing to share,” she said. 

The committee will have additional help from Gray-New Gloucester High School’s ExCel program, an alternative program for students who are at risk of not graduating for a variety of reasons.

The ExCel group volunteers in a variety of settings, from volunteering at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen once a month to participating in a work day at Libby Hill Trails last fall.

Carder looks forward to working with the group more as construction gets underway in September, saying “They’re very enthusiastic.”

She explained that once school starts up again in September, the students will help by packing up the school materials that are in the building to be put into storage, assisting with the floor repair and chronicling the repair itself through photographs.

One student is working on a map of the site in advance of the construction. Others are working on scanning, digitizing and cataloging the many boxes of photos and other materials that are in the old schoolhouse.

“That’s a big project,” Carder said, but the committee plans to one day create a few display cases in the schoolhouse in order to exhibit these materials.

Carder is hopeful that the schoolhouse’s unique history can be preserved while the building is strengthened so that it can last far into the future.

“There aren’t that many (one-room schoolhouses) left that are authentic,” she said. 

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