HALLOWELL — As state workers prepare to leave the Stevens School complex, municipal officials are looking to plot a long-term course for the 64-acre campus in the heart of the city.

There are no firm future plans for the state-owned, 14-building complex, but a real estate broker who once tried to sell it said it’s ripe for different uses and is “a unique opportunity” because of its size and proximity to neighborhoods and the city’s downtown.

However, some of that development could clash with a Hallowell committee’s preference to keep a 20-acre field on the north side of the campus as open space.

This year, the Hallowell City Council will work to articulate the city’s vision for the complex. Mayor Mark Walker said that will inform Hallowell’s discussions with the state ahead of a potential sale. Walker appointed a Stevens School Committee in December, which he said will narrow down the city’s goals for future development.

“Let’s face it, this is a big piece of property and a bunch of people are interested in it and a lot of people have a lot of ideas about it,” said City Manager Michael Starn.

The complex has been a main subject in Hallowell for years, and it has become a larger issue as the state has begun to leave it, boarding up Colonial Revival-style buildings, letting grass grow and storing broken signs and tables in plain sight.

The campus opened in the 1870s as a school. The Central Maine Pre-Release Center opened in 1979 and was closed in 2013. Now, only a few state offices remain. The state is looking to move all employees out by spring. After that, Alex Willette, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Adminstrative and Financial Services, said there’s “no firm plan” on how the state will shed the property, but that it will work with Hallowell leaders to conceive one.

One building’s future is somewhat sure. The Reed Center, occupied by Regional School Unit 2’s administrative offices, will likely be transferred to the school district, which has been headquartered on the complex for approximately two decades on a $1 annual lease scheduled to end in June. RSU 2 Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said that though no transfer has been finalized, he expects a deal with the state soon.

The state marketed the complex in 2008, but it never sold and it’s not on the market now. Hallowell once considered buying it, but backed out. Still, the city’s 2010 comprehensive plan lists 14 goals for the property, including limiting development to areas of the campus that already have buildings and retaining as much open space as possible.

However, a state map drafted in June divides the property into five sections, with the north field split apart from built-out areas, the Reed Center parcel and another “neighborhood development zone” — a 14-acre open parcel that abuts residential Pleasant Street. Willette called that “a guiding map” for conversations with the city with nothing set in stone.

In December, Sarah Shed, chair of the Hallowell Conservation Commission, an advisory board, sent a letter to councilors saying that the 20-acre field should be kept open as a link to Howard Hill, a 164-acre plot running nearly all the way to Capitol Street in Augusta that the Kennebec Land Trust reached a deal to preserve last year.

But Chris Paszyc, the broker for CBRE/The Boulos Company in Portland who tried to sell the property for the state, said it would be attractive to developers. Before, he said the pre-release center’s presence turned off potential buyers. He said some of the buildings could be rehabbed by commercial developers, while some of the open space would be good for residential purposes. The complex would be “a unique opportunity” because of its size and location, he said.

“The market right now is very good,” Paszyc said, “and I think there’d be quite a bit of interest if the state decided to put it on the open market.”

While there are many ideas about the complex’s future, Walker said there’s plenty of land to accommodate diverse uses, and he wants to see open space mixed with development that will bring much of the complex onto the city’s tax rolls.

“Everyone has a vested interest, but it’s a great opportunity to bring that property back,” the mayor said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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