The former Mahoney Middle School and its adjacent field, which is used frequently by the community, in South Portland. The city of South Portland is considering spending nearly $80 million to transform the property into a city hall and police station, or to use the historic building for affordable housing or other uses. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

For 100 years, the stately brick Mahoney Middle School has sat at the corner of Ocean Street and Broadway in South Portland, its halls and classrooms full of students and teachers.

With students now in a new school 3 miles away, the structure sits empty, and the City Council is considering the future of a building that many in the community see as intricately tied to the city’s identity and history. In the coming months, city leaders are expected to make what they call a complex and important decision about how to use it.

One option on the table is to transform Mahoney into a city hall and build a new police station next door, at a cost of $74.5 million. But during a March 14 community workshop, residents floated other ideas – from affordable housing to a community arts center – and councilors say they don’t want to rush their decision.

“I think we can do some things here that can please most people, which is rare in municipal government,” South Portland Mayor Misha Pride said in an interview.

A city facilities committee has spent the last three years looking at the current and future needs of municipal buildings – including the current City Hall on Cottage Road, the main library, and the central fire and police stations – and analyzing options for new or renovated facilities. During that process, Mahoney became part of the discussion as a new middle school was built on Wescott Street.

The school department voted last September to turn the Mahoney building and 10-acre property over to the city, a step required by state law because it was no longer being used for educational purposes.



The building was constructed in 1923-24 and showcases the Beaux Arts Style of architecture, a style inspired by classical models and used for important civic buildings, according to Greater Portland Landmarks, which put the school on its Places in Peril list in 2017. In 2008, it was determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but it has not been added.

The 93,000-square-foot brick building was originally used as South Portland High School. It became the city’s junior high school in the 1950s and was later named for longtime principal Daniel J. Mahoney. It was used as a school for 99 years before closing last spring.

Owens McCullough, an engineer with Sebago Technics, the firm hired to assess options for city facilities, said the overall structure of Mahoney is in good condition, but all of the mechanical systems need to be redone. Some environmental work could also be needed to deal with asbestos under floor tiles and in old chalk boards, which he said is typical of buildings that age.

Ultimately, the facilities committee recommended the council support a plan to move City Hall to Mahoney, build a 26,000-square-foot police station on the property, renovate and expand the public library, and expand the Central Fire Station once the existing police station is demolished. Bringing all city departments back under one roof (some are currently housed in the former Hamlin School) would use about a third of the building.

If the City Council decides to move forward with that option, the plan would go to voters next year for a bond referendum.


The former Mahoney Middle School, left, and its adjacent field. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The council had been scheduled to vote on the Mahoney issue on April 16, but city councilors say they want more time to consider the ideas shared by residents at the workshop and explore whether other options are feasible. Pride said he anticipates the council will still discuss the building at that meeting, but won’t make a decision.

Councilor Natalie West said last week that it is a complex decision.

“We have to be very careful and deliberate,” she said.


During the community workshop, city councilors heard from residents for the first time about what they want to see happen at Mahoney. Over the course of more than two hours, three dozen residents shared their ideas for the building.

Many advocated for Mahoney to be used for affordable housing, which they say is especially needed on the east side of the city. Others suggested that if the city offices are moved, the current City Hall and Hamlin buildings could be converted to affordable housing.


“Housing is a crisis. and we need actual workforce and low-income housing, and we need to have it in a place that is safe,” said Cathy Chapman.

Alex Redfield, who lives near the school, said the city has a unique opportunity to address the housing crisis by adding units in a location close to Knightville and the Greenbelt with easy access to the Casco Bay Bridge and Portland.

Bob Liscord, a community development attorney who lives in South Portland, said using Mahoney for housing could unlock federal and state historic tax credits that could help pay for the renovations. Because of the size of the building – and its existing gym and auditorium – space could still be reserved for community or arts space, he said.

Mike Hulsey, executive director of the South Portland Housing Authority, urged councilors to explore options for converting the building into affordable housing and said the housing authority would like to be part of those conversations. He cited the Westbrook Housing Authority’s decision to use the old Westbrook High School building for housing.

“The results were an amazing 29 new homes in a historically preserved building that sits proudly on Main Street in Westbrook with a gymnasium that’s also preserved for community use,” he said.

Hulsey estimates that 45 housing units could fit in Mahoney while leaving the gym and auditorium in place for the community to use. Alternatively, he believes as many as 70 units could fit in a five-story building with underground parking at the current City Hall site.


He said he recognizes the need for a new city hall and police station but hopes the council will talk to the housing authority about the potential to create much-needed housing.

“Hopefully, at the end of the day, the city comes up with a plan that works for everybody,” he said.


Many South Portland residents who spoke reflected on their own ties to Mahoney.

Russ Lunt, a longtime resident, said he went to Mahoney in 1970 and described the building as solid, even if it does need a lot of modernization. He said he supports turning it into city hall because the current offices are in poor condition and it would be cost-effective to have all municipal services in one place.

“There are a lot of good possibilities here,” he said. “It’s a win-win for the city.”


April Cohen, who attended Mahoney and now sells real estate, said she supports the city hall option because of the condition of the current city offices, which she said have not changed much since she was young and would go there with her mother.

“City Hall still feels like 1989, which is a great year for Taylor Swift but not for us,” she said.

Several residents said they put a high priority on keeping the playing fields at Mahoney because it is one of the few places with open green space on the east side of the city. Others said they wanted to see the building continue to be open for public use.

Bob McKeagney, speaking on behalf of the Historic Preservation Committee, urged city councilors to preserve Mahoney, which the committee nominated for inclusion on the city’s inventory of archaeological and historic resources.

“We have an important resource that needs to be protected,” he said, adding that the school represented “the essence and spirit of the community.”

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