Gorham Academy opened in 1806 on a lot defined by a stone wall on the USM campus. Robert Lowell/American Journal

GORHAM — The old Gorham Academy building on the University of Southern Maine campus has served students for more than two centuries, and the edifice is showing its age. The building appeared recently on Greater Portland Landmarks’ “Places in Peril” list.

USM says it is planning to repair and renovate the building, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. The university and its forerunners have leased the building and its lot since 1907 from the academy’s board of trustees.

John Sawyer, clerk of the academy’s board of trustees, said in an email to the American Journal that he was unaware of the building’s repair issues. The academy board last met in November 2003. “Sounds to me like it may be time for the board to have a special meeting and discuss the status of the building and options,” Sawyer wrote.

The base of a column of the old Gorham Academy shows decay. Robert Lowell/American Journal

Under the lease agreement, the university is responsible for repairs, but Gorham historians say the board of trustees needs to step up and make sure the 213-year-old building is taken care of and that USM’s plans are appropriate.

“I believe it is the responsibility of the board for the academy building to work with USM on the upkeep of the building,” said Suzanne Phillips, president of the Gorham Historical Society.

Bruce Roullard, a university alumnus and member of Gorham Historic Preservation Commission, wants a review to determine “what role the trustees have or should have.”

The academy is “plagued by deferred maintenance,” according to Greater Portland Landmarks.

A column on the front of the building had fallen but has been re-installed, Noah Miner, chairman of the Gorham Historic Preservation Commission, said.

“The exterior is in pretty rough shape,” he said Tuesday.

An American Journal visit to the academy revealed that the base of another column supporting an exterior balcony appears to be rotting and the building’s siding is riddled with holes.

“It is very disappointing to see it in disrepair,” Phillips said.

Nancy Griffin, USM chief operating officer, said in an American Journal article last week that she objected to the academy and another USM building in Portland being placed on the “in peril” list. “Those buildings are not in peril and it is not appropriate to have them on the list,” she said.

The university says it is planning a restoration of the academy building, which now houses USM art classes.

“Our plans are to continue to use the building for classroom space,” said university spokesman Bob Stein. “We are in the final stages of an RFP process to select a historic preservation architectural firm to conduct a full review of the building and help us develop a plan for its continued upkeep and restoration.”

The academy building, a Commonwealth of Massachusetts grant, opened as a college prep school for boys in 1806. The school closed in 1877 and the building and its lot was leased by its board of trustees 112 years ago to the State Normal School, a university forerunner, for 999 years. Under the original lease, the lessee was responsible for fire insurance and repairs.

Lease repair requirements remained in 1975, according to a letter from the university, when the property transferred from the state to the University of Maine. The letter, dug up by the late Gorham researcher Adam Ogden, also said the university would be required to construct a new building of the same “architectural design” if it was destroyed by fire.

Kirk Mohney, executive director of Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said Wednesday in an email it was contacted by the university in mid-May about the condition of the building. USM  asked the commission for a consultation “about its general plans for rehabilitation and re-use, and to provide a list of historical architects.”

Mohney said a commission staff member met with the university on June 11. “We have not had any updates on the status of the project since mid-June,” Mohney said.

Sarah Hansen, Greater Portland Landmarks executive director, said in a press release that each of the “Places in Peril” helps define community history. “Our goal in highlighting them is to actively find solutions to save them all,” Hansen said.

Neither Gorham’s Historic Preservation Commission nor Gorham Historical Society have jurisdiction over repairs of the academy. Phillips said the society would happily serve as a consultant working with the university and could provide records and photographs.

An anecdote in a history of the academy by an unknown author indicated replica replacement windows in the recent past had been welcomed at the academy building. “Before the new windows were installed, we were freezing in here,” a university art professor said. “We had plastic sheeting over the windows to keep the cold out. We use nude models in here and we need it to be warm. Now it actually feels hot in here.”

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