The 215-year-old Gorham Academy needs extensive repairs and the University of Southern Maine says it will begin the work soon. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The University of Southern Maine will make more than $750,000 in repairs to the historic Gorham Academy Building soon, an official says.

A hole through siding reveals what appears to be insulation. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The 215-year-old Gorham building needs preservation work. In 2019, Greater Portland Landmarks included it on its “Places in Peril” list.

Easily visible problems include a hole rotted through the front exterior exposing what appears to be insulation, decayed column base wood and shabby window shutters.

USM commissioned an historical preservation survey of the building in 2019 and the survey was completed just before the onset of the pandemic last year, according to Alexander Porteous, chief operating officer at USM.

“The survey identified considerable work that will be necessary for the building,” Porteous wrote in an email to the American Journal. “USM intends to begin that work in the near future, with the university’s first step being a focus on critical needs for the building envelope, including weatherization and improved structural integrity.”

A decaying column base. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The total cost of the work on the building, which opened in 1806 as a tuition school, is estimated at $758,548. Work includes east facade portico siding and roof repair, $83,o12; east facade portico columns, slab and step repairs,  $82,012; siding restoration north, south and west elevations, $75,534; foundation restoration, $32,393; roof and cupola rehab, $44,220; ADA access and restroom, $369,378; and entry and stair, $72,006.

Bruce Roullard, chairperson of the town’s Gorham Historic Preservation Commission, said this week that he was glad USM commissioned the survey of the old building’s needs.

“I hope the survey provides guidance in completing a renovation/restoration of the Gorham Academy Building, a historic treasure of our community,” Roullard said.

The building was placed in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Remains of a window shutter. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Gorham Academy operated for 71 years, closing in 1877. Its earliest students came from Gorham and surrounding towns, including Buxton, Standish and Windham. 

According to a history of USM forerunners at the Gorham campus by a former president, Kenneth T.H. Brooks: “By the late 1800s, academies throughout the country declined, succumbing to the appeal of free public high schools. Gorham was no exception.”

The academy’s board of trustees in 1909 leased the building and the lot to the state’s Normal School for 999 years. The lease stipulates it must be used for academic purposes.  In recent years, USM art classes have utilized the space.

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