HALLOWELL — The state says it wants to transfer the building that houses Regional School Unit 2’s central office to the district sometime this year, but negotiations on the property haven’t begun.
It’s a step toward a long-term solution for one building on the Stevens School complex off Winthrop Street, the 14-building, 64-acre property that the state largely has vacated, drawing criticism for a perceived lack of communication with local stakeholders on what its plans for the complex are.
The school district, which consists of Hallowell, Farmingdale, Richmond, Monmouth and Dresden, has kept its central office at the Reed Center on the complex for nearly 20 years, renting it from the state for an annual fee of $1. Its lease is scheduled to end in June 2015.
Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for the Maine Bureau of General Services, said Friday the state wants to transfer the building to the district this year, but negotiations with RSU 2 haven’t started, so neither she nor Virgel Hammonds, RSU 2’s superintendent, claimed to know what the terms might be.
At an April 2013 public hearing before a legislative committee, Dawn Gallagher, chairwoman of RSU 2’s board, said the district had spent a considerable amount of money on stopgap updates in the aging building, including replacing boilers and circuitry and working on walls and ceilings. Hammonds said although other updates still need to be made, staying in the building would be most fiscally responsible for the district, given the high cost of real estate.
Michael Starn, Hallowell’s city manager, said keeping the district’s administrative offices at their current site “would fit into our general view of that campus.”
“Hopefully when they get it, they’ll make the investment that needs to be made there,” he said.
However, the city has long advocated that the state move more proactively toward shopping the campus to a developer. The state tried to sell it in 2008, first trying to recruit requests for proposals. After that, it listed the property for $1.1 million. Smith said after the state negotiates with the RSU, it will hire a consultant who will work to market the property.
A law passed in 2003 authorized the sale of the complex, as the state was planning to move offices from the site. Many of them are gone now. In 2013, inmates housed at the Central Maine Pre-Release Center there were moved to another facility and that building was left empty.
In the next 18 months, Smith said, Maine Department of Marine Resources employees now working on the campus will leave for the Marquardt Building, about four miles away at the state’s complex at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute site on Augusta’s east side.
In the past, Starn and other city officials have said they felt as though they were in the dark on state officials’ plans for the complex.
A bill submitted by Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, that would have imposed conditions on the sale, established a stakeholder group to work with potential developers and extended the RSU’s lease through 2017, was killed by a legislative committee earlier this year.
Smith said the consultant the state hires to market the property will work closely with city officials so what eventually may spring up there helps fulfill municipal goals, but Treat said the state has long been hard to read on the issue.
“I think it’s great that they’re negotiating with the RSU. That doesn’t mean (the talks) end positively, but I hope they do,” Treat said. “But there’s still a lot of issues, and No. 1 amongst them is communication with the city.”