HALLOWELL — After more than nine years and failure to raise half the private money it promised to fund school upgrades, an embattled volunteer group run by a City Council candidate has folded.

Team Hall-Dale has struggled over the past decade, but its total shutdown was unexpected. Andrew McPherson told the Kennebec Journal in September that the group’s fundraising effort, which began in 2004, would soon restart.

But on Friday, McPherson blamed bad press for Team Hall-Dale’s demise.

He said after attempting to raise money by going door to door and by phone and email, he found that “nobody will donate money or help” to the cause because of stories about the group’s fundraising woes.

“They’re not throwing the good money at this anymore because there’s such bad publicity,” McPherson said.

Team Hall-Dale’s final check, made out earlier this month to Regional School Unit 2, the district that includes Hallowell and Farmingdale, was $351.24, according to Superintendent Virgel Hammonds.

McPherson said that emptied the group’s account, even though he said last month that the group’s bank account had a few thousand dollars in it. He said Friday that figure was only an estimate, and he wasn’t sure about the amount previously.

Now the group’s shutdown has escalated a standing war of words between the group and Dawn Gallagher, a Hallowell resident who is chairwoman of RSU 2’s board.

“The problems with team Hall-Dale surfaced several years ago,” Gallagher said. “To say their failure is due to recent bad publicity is just another excuse.”

At its inception in 2004, Team Hall-Dale had hoped to raise $558,000 from private donors by that June to fund upgrades to Hall-Dale Elementary School that the state wouldn’t pay for: a larger gymnasium, library and cafeteria.

Gallagher and Hallowell Mayor Charlotte Warren, a McPherson supporter who will leave office in early January, have sparred on the fundraising issue.

In a September story in the Kennebec Journal, Gallagher criticized McPherson for running for the City Council on a platform of fiscal conservatism when the group he led didn’t raise money that could help lower residents’ tax burden.

Warren fired back, saying Gallagher and other critics in the city were long-standing “haters” of the mayor and her allies, including McPherson.

The mayor then said she stood ready to help McPherson raise money, even after a plan to revive the group that she drafted and submitted to the council last November went nowhere. In September, she said McPherson “can get these dollars.”

Warren, who didn’t return a cellphone message seeking comment for this story, also accompanied McPherson to the RSU 2 central office in Hallowell when the last check was dropped off, according to McPherson and Hammonds.

Hammonds said there was only brief conversation at the meeting. He said Warren and McPherson told him the money handed over that day would be the last, and Hammonds said he was appreciative.

To date, the group has handed over more than $241,000, about 41 percent of the goal. McPherson has cited a bad economy as the main reason pledges dried up over the years.

While Team Hall-Dale’s shutdown doesn’t affect taxpayers directly, Hallowell and Farmingdale residents already have been assessed for the group’s failure to live up to its pledge.

The $12.4 million school opened in 2006. Team Hall-Dale’s first donation to the district — $175,000 — came that year. Another $40,000 came in 2007. By 2009, when RSU 2 was formed, that was all the group gave.

Absent more money, Hallowell and Farmingdale residents voted in June 2009 to fund the outstanding amount for the upgrades, Hammonds has said.

After that, the RSU was able to use nearly $342,000 in carried-over funds from School Administrative Unit 16, the former school district consisting of Hallowell and Farmingdale, to pay off debt for upgrades over time.

Between 2009 and July 2012, $75 came in from Team Hall-Dale. Then, in August 2012, another $26,000 came in. That money was put toward debt service, Hammonds has said.

When voters approved accepting money from Team Hall-Dale in 2004, they did so with the understanding that Hallowell and Farmingdale would pick up the tab if the group couldn’t raise the money.

The public notice of Team Hall-Dale’s shutdown also adds a wrinkle to McPherson’s council bid. The Chamberlain Drive engineer is running for an at-large seat on the Nov. 5 ballot against George Lapointe, of Middle Street, a former commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. A candidate forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Hallowell’s City Hall.

On the school board, Gallagher has been the only public critic of Team Hall-Dale. Shawna Corbett, a member from Hallowell, would not comment on Team Hall-Dale’s shutdown.

Linda Leet, a Farmingdale member, said all involved with Team Hall-Dale had “such good intentions.” She praised McPherson’s work, saying it resulted in the bigger, better school.

“All the kids and the parents have benefited,” she said. “We’ve got a phenomenal facility.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
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