SIDNEY — The director of the New England Music Camp announced Monday his intention to raise up to $10 million for a project that would transform the summer camp into a year-round performing arts center.

Director John Wiggin said the plan calls for the construction of a 32,000-square-foot addition to the school’s main hall and capital improvements to its existing, nonwinterized structures.

The proposed addition includes a 750-seat auditorium with a 2,200 square foot stage, a three-story education center and more.

The plan also calls for the creation of a scholarship fund.

Wiggin estimates the cost of the addition could reach $6 million. The plan is to raise the funds during the next three to four years through grants and alumni, he said.

If the goal is met, the revamped camp will “serve as a premier teaching facility for students, performers, sound technicians and composers,” according to Wiggin’s presentation materials. “It will also serve as a comfortable and acoustically precise performance facility for all of central Maine, with space adequate to host high-level performers.”


The camp, which is on 40 acres alongside Messalonskee Lake, originally took root in 1930 as the Eastern Music Camp, but foundered during the Great Depression.

In 1937, however, the camp was purchased by Dr. Paul E. Wiggin, John Wiggin’s grandfather, and renamed New England Music Camp. In 1969, Wiggin’s parents assumed ownership of the camp. In 2009, Wiggin, who lives in Scarborough, took over.

The camp serves about 200 students a year from all over the world during its summer session.

By autumn, however, the music stops, and the camp is shuttered until the return of summer.

Wiggin said he hopes that will change.

“This is a nice piece of property,” Wiggin said of his camp. “It seems crazy to only use it nine weeks out of the year.”


On Monday, Wiggin laid out his plan to the Sidney Board of Selectmen during its regular meeting. He said current economic conditions and the age of the facility played a part in the decision to expand.

“It’s harder and harder to fill the camp, because the economy hasn’t been great and kids have lots and lots of things to do,” he said, “and it’s a facility that’s getting harder and harder to maintain with just a nine-week season.

“So what we’ve been thinking about for some time has been to broaden the use of the camp. Are there other things that we can do with the facility?”

One of the potential uses, Wiggin said, is to serve area school students. For instance, high school students in Augusta, Oakland, Sidney and Waterville could attend regular academic classes in their hometown schools but attend the New England Music Camp in the afternoon for music, theater and dance programs.

“Given cutbacks in funding in many school systems, this would provide the venue for those students who desire a robust, challenging program to get the very best music and arts education,” the presentation said.

Wiggin said the proposed state-of-the-art auditorium could serve as a draw for big acts.


“The acoustics here will probably be better than at (Portland’s) Merrill Hall, which is a nice-looking building, but the acoustics aren’t particularly good,” he said.

The plan has received support from the New England Music Camp board of directors, students and parents, Wiggin said. He added the plan also has received approval from the Sidney planning commission.

The remaining hurdle is money. Wiggin said the fundraising campaign will begin in earnest early next month.

“We’re doing our research right now,” he said. “We’re going to be applying to a lot of Maine foundations.

“We’re looking at getting a third of (the funds) from our alumni and parents and the other two-thirds from the Maine foundations.”

In the meantime, Wiggin said, he is seeking public comment from Sidney residents.


“I hope to start a discussion around town — the pros and cons,” he said. “We’re looking at this as a potential community resource. We want to get input on whether there are things the town could have use for. It’s a nice piece of property, so we’re open to whatever the town could use.

“This is basically our first draft,” he said of the plans. “We’re still tweaking this.”

At the end of Wiggin’s presentation, Selectman Kelly Couture expressed her approval for the plan.

“I, personally, am very much in support of it. I think it will only make the town better,” she said. “I definitely support this and look forward to it.”


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