CORINNA — The clock tower is cracked and worn. The auditorium’s outdated heating system rattles over the sound of performances. And the town’s aging population struggles up the stairs, while the town can’t afford to install an elevator in the building, which also houses the town offices.

With a recently awarded $1 million grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine, however, Corinna town officials hope to renovate and update the 116-year-old Stewart Library Building while restoring its historic integrity.

Selectman Brent Mullis said the windfall was unexpected.

“We were overly surprised,” said Mullis. “We’re not used to that sort of good sentiment.”

Ken Dow, chairman of the Building Preservation Group, which was appointed by the Board of Selectmen, said the project will cost an estimated $2.5 million. The town already has committed what it can afford for the project, and he said the additional money will have to come from other grants and fundraising.

Dow said the town’s residents showed the value they place on the building when, despite the town’s small tax base, they approved spending up to $180,000 to restore the building’s clock tower.

“It shows the support that exists,” he said. “There’s been a strong history of Corinna taking care of this building.”

All the changes have to be approved by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in order to keep the building’s place on the National Register of Historic Places, Dow said. While that makes the project more expensive, he said it’s necessary both for preserving the building’s integrity and for keeping it eligible for additional grants.

The two-story brick-and-granite building, built in 1898, is on a hill in the center of the small Penobscot County town, where it overlooks the site of the former Eastland Woolen Mill.

It was built in 1898 by Levi Stewart, a philanthropist and Corinna resident, and today it houses the town’s public library, the Town Office, the Stewart Private Library and a second-floor auditorium.

The centerpiece for the town of 2,100 became the community’s most prominent piece of architecture when the contaminated mill was demolished in 2000 as one of the state’s largest EPA Superfund cleanups.

The Next Generation Foundation was formed in 2000 and gives money for projects that support health, education and social equality.

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission also awarded the town grants totaling $15,000 for the engineering costs incurred in repairing the clock tower and the steeple.

Dow said a timeline for the restoration work is still being worked on, but the clock tower project will start this winter.

Some work on the building already has been done, Dow said. A Community Development Block Grant in 2005 paid for some smaller-scale renovations such as restoring the ceiling on the second floor.

Still, the building and the town have aged. A lack of modern accommodations has led to less use of the building over the years. One of the most pressing problems, town officials say, is the lack of accessibility. One of the renovation priorities is to add an elevator to help people get to the second floor.

“Some of the older folks just can’t do these stairs,” said building preservation group member Jackie Emerson, while at the Stewart Library Building on Tuesday. Emerson had climbed to the top of the stairs to show the auditorium, while Mullis waited on the first floor, saying he wasn’t sure he’d make it to the top.

The building has only two bathrooms for a single occupant each, which Mullis said is an inconvenience at times, like when a group of two dozen children came for the theater and all had to share.

On the second floor, the large auditorium has a loud outdated heating system that needs to be turned off during plays because it drowns out the performance.

“It gets cold by the end of the second act,” said Dow.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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