Cumberland may shelve plans to move the 1853 school building that houses the town Historical Society. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — The town may have to drop plans to move a 166-year-old former school that houses the Historical Society due to increased costs to relocate the building and the potentially precarious condition of the structure.

A public input session scheduled for July 29 has been postponed, possibly until September, to allow time for a structural engineer to better determine the feasibility of moving the 4 Blanchard Road building o.2 miles to 266 Main St., at the Prince Memorial Library.

“We’re just not to a place right now that we have all the answers to the questions we may receive related to the move,” Town Manager Bill Shane said July 18.

The Town Council in February authorized forming a committee to explore moving the society building to an undetermined spot on the library property, where the two structures would be connected. The panel on June 3 unanimously accepted a $14,500 design services proposal from Scott Simons Architects of Portland. The funds come from reserves set aside for that purpose.

Dovetailing with the relocation could be an expansion that would double the size of the nearly 10,000-square-foot library, and add about 30 parking spaces. All the work would occur at the rear of the building and property.

The costs of moving the approximately 1,400-square-foot structure “seem to be getting more and more expensive,” so the town must determine whether the move still makes sense, Shane said.

“If we’re looking at potentially $100,000-$150,000 to move the building, and then you’ve got another $100,000 of repairs, now you’re at a quarter of a million dollars and you’ve still got the same old building; you haven’t increased your space,” he said.

Utility wires on Main Street would also have to be moved to allow the relocation, Shane said.

Funds for project elements beyond the relocation – things like roof repairs, replacement of a rotted sill on one side, and the building’s connection to the library – have been intended to come from a capital campaign, Historical Society curator and President Carolyn Small said in February.

If the current site is vacated, the town has eyed selling the parcel to abutter Sevee & Maher – which operates out of the old Town Hall – and putting those funds toward a move and a new foundation for the building. Lots in the area have sold for $80,000-$90,000, so the value of the property “is in that ballpark,” Shane said.

“We don’t want to kill the building; we don’t want it to fall upon itself” if it is not sturdy enough to be moved, Shane said, noting the walls were built first, after which the floor was built on piers.

Normally the walls and floors are connected, giving a building its strength, but “(if) you pick that thing up and you’re not careful, the whole thing comes tumbling down,” he said. “We’re trying to do due diligence now with structural engineers to look at it, to see the practical way if it could be moved. And if it can’t … we’ll have to go to a secondary plan.”

Plan B could see the former schoolhouse staying where it is and leased it to someone who could repair and occupy the building, as Shane noted happened with old schoolhouses on West Main Street in Yarmouth. The Historical Society could move its operations and artifacts to an expanded library, with the goal still achieved of expanding its hours to match those of the library, thereby broadening its exposure.

“We’re looking at a long-term plan for the library expansion and additional space” for both it and the historical society, Shane said. “That still is the plan, but what we do with the schoolhouse building, we’ve still got to decide.”

The Historical Society building functioned as a schoolhouse until 1952, then served as a town office and police station until the 1980s, according to Small. It is one of two remaining schoolhouses in Cumberland; it has no national historic registry designation, but Shane said he expects the town will protect it.

The Town Council will ultimately decide whether it should be moved.

“It probably won’t be until September until we have all the pieces of the puzzle,” he said.


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