Bath city officials have three main ideas for what to do with the existing Morse High School building on High Street, all of which involve turning at least a portion of the building into housing. Anyone can submit their ideas or feedback though an online survey by Friday, Nov. 13.  File

BATH — Friday, Nov. 13 is the last day to complete an online survey that will help Bath city officials decide what to do with the old Morse High School.

The city has three main ideas for how to redevelop the school, located at 826 High St., all of which involve repurposing some of the building into housing. Assistant Bath City Manager Marc Meyers said nothing has been decided and the city will accept any ideas.

“The survey is about making sure people have the opportunity to be heard, especially because this is a building so many people hold dear to their heart,” said Meyers. “The city doesn’t want to make decisions in a vacuum. We always want people to share their thoughts with us. It’s phenomenal that so many people still feel so strongly about the school and have this sense of pride in it.”

The survey had 136 responses as of last week, Meyers said, and wants hear from as many people as possible.

One idea includes turning most of the school into housing, with the north wing becoming a new fire and rescue station. The existing Bath fire and rescue station is just two houses down the road.  Deputy Chief Chris Cummings said the station, built in the 1950s, is getting too small for their needs.

“We have adequate room to store everything, but we’re getting congested as we get more equipment and the trucks change,” said Cummings. “The offices are very small and we’re a full-time department so people need living quarters with enough bedrooms, a kitchen and a full bathroom.”

The station has five firefighters on duty at all times and only four bedrooms, but the station may need to add more personnel as the number of emergency calls they get increases.

“When I started in 2000, we got around 2,000 calls annually,” Cummings said. “Last year we got about 2,700.”

The city may use a portion of the high school as housing, the cafeteria would become a café and the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center building would become an office building.

Lastly, the city is considering turning the school into housing only. Meyers said the city hasn’t decided whether the housing would have income or age restrictions.

Meyers said the city doesn’t plan on changing the brick façade. None of the possible renovations include plans for the theater or gymnasium, as those were sections of the school alumni said they wanted preserved.

“I really don’t care what they do as long as they keep the main part of the building,” said Holly Bisson Lowe, Morse Alumni Association president. “Most everyone has a connection with the main part of the building. The façade is a focal point, and the theater is a perfectly good theater and I’d like to see them maintain it.”

Lowe said she doesn’t want any part of the school to become commercial space because “it could draw people away from the downtown and affect the downtown merchants that have stuck it out through the pandemic.”

Alumnus Tabitha Bishop said the school should serve the community. She said she’s in favor of turning the school into subsidized housing, similar to the Huse School/

The John E.L. Huse Memorial School in Bath was redeveloped into a mixed-income 60-unti apartment building by the Szanton Company.

“I absolutely believe housing is a good idea,” said Bishop. “We have so many families in this town who I know could use the help.”

The median price of a home in Bath is $190,000, which requires an income of at least $62,146 to afford, according to a 2018 Maine State Housing Authority report. The median income of a Bath resident is $40,611, meaning 66% of Bath households are unable to afford the median home price.

Regardless of what the school becomes, Lowe said she wants students, both past and present, to be able to revisit it.

“We don’t want it to be empty, vandalized or boarded up,” she said. “We want to see it live on and be valuable to the community. The school is a landmark. When you go up the stairs you can see the depressions where thousands of other kids have walked. It’s just a feeling you can’t replicate.”

The original Morse High School was built in 1904 and named for businessman Charles Morse. It burned down in 1928. The current school was rebuilt on the same site in 1929 — this time to be as fireproof and structurally sound as possible. Additional classrooms and wings were later added during World War II, and again in 1969 and 1996.

A new Morse High School is expected to be completed early next year. The city will take ownership of the existing school in spring 2021.

Meyers said the city doesn’t have a timeline for when the redevelopment construction will begin and that timeline will vary depending on what the city decides to do. However, he said, “The last thing the city wants is to sit vacant for several years while we figure out what to do with it.”

The deadline for the survey is Friday, Nov. 13. The survey and more information on the project can be found at cityofbath.com/morse.

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