A steel beam supports the balcony while repairs are underway at the old Gorham Academy building on the University of Southern Maine campus. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The 216-year-old Gorham Academy building is getting a much-needed facelift in what one campus official calls a “long overdue” project.

Exterior work is underway at a cost of $800,000, according to University of Southern Maine Chief Operating Officer Alec Porteous, and will be completed this fall.

David Burrows, USM’s project manager, said repairs to the 40-by-60-foot building were long overdue.

“It was worse than we thought,” Burrows said.

USM officials John Souther, left, and David Burrows examine restoration progress Tuesday at the Gorham Academy building. Robert Lowell / American Journal

“Substantial rot” was discovered under the exterior sheathing behind the porch on the front of the building, according to John Martin, project manager for Optimum Construction of Portland.

The front porch with four pillars under the balcony needed to be replaced and a new concrete porch foundation will be anchored into bedrock. A gutter will be installed on the building’s front to help prevent future water damage and the original granite steps and porch deck will be reinstalled.


Other work consists of repairs to the foundation and building envelope, including the siding and portico, Porteous said.

Interior work will wait until after the exterior is weathertight, according to John Souther, USM executive director of facilities management. A new roof with synthetic, architectural shingles was completed in June.

Boarding will be replaced to repair a deteriorated sill at the Gorham Academy building. The wood rot was discovered after the porch was removed. The porch is being completely rebuilt on a new foundation. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The structure that houses a bell was found to be structurally sound and did not need repairs.

“It’s an awesome building,” Souther said of the cupola.

Egress from the front of the building will need to be completed before classes, which are held in the building,  can resume there, Martin said.

Plans now call for the exterior to have a fresh, primer coat of white paint before winter.


“It’s a beautiful building,” Martin said.

In 2019, Greater Portland Landmarks included it on its “Places in Peril” list.

Restoration will be in keeping with the landmark’s appearance when the academy was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1806. Window shutters will be removed and not reinstalled so the building will sport its original appearance.

The academy was built with a grant from the governor of Massachusetts, under which Maine was then a district. The building opened as a college preparatory institution Sept. 9, 1806, with 33 male students. Tuition was $2.50 per quarter in 1807, when the school became co-educational. Gorham Academy operated until 1877.

In 1907, the board of trustees leased the building to the state for 999 years. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1972.

In other campus projects, Porteous said work on the exterior brickwork and the roof of historic Russell Hall is scheduled for next summer. Porteous said USM administrators hope the university system’s board of trustees will approve restoring Robie-Andrews Hall by the fall of 2025. In addition, the twin, eight-story Dickey-Wood dorms are slated for demolition but funding has not been approved yet.


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