HALLOWELL — During the city’s inauguration ceremony earlier this year, Hallowell’s elected officials, including Mayor Mark Walker, said deciding the future of the state-owned Stevens School campus was a priority for 2015.

With the New Year right around the corner, the future of the 64-acre, 14-building complex on one of the city’s busiest streets remains unclear.

“Stevens School and (the Water Street reconstruction) will dictate the future presentability of the city of Hallowell,” Walker said. “It is a very high priority.”

According to Walker and city manager Stefan Pakulski, the state put the Winthrop Street campus up for sale in October and received one bid. Pakulski said there was a minimum bid of $600,000 for the complex, which an appraiser valued at nearly $900,000 in May. State officials did not return a request for comment on the bidding process, but Walker said the proposal was probably being carefully reviewed.

“I think if the bid is close (to what the state wants) and there was good documentation as to why the bid is reasonable and should be accepted, then the state will give it serious consideration,” he said.

Walker said it is important to the city that some decisions are made regarding the complex because there are many buildings that are decaying, putting the city at risk because of environmental concerns. Walker and Pakulski agree that the condition of the majority of the buildings may be what keeps developers from making an offer.

“Depending on what you pay for it, you’d have to pour tons of money into rehabbing the buildings to be able to turn them into condo residences or office space,” Pakulski said. “Some of the buildings were built for different things than what somebody might be able to use them for now.”

One of the buildings used to be an infirmary, so it has small, cubicle like rooms. That was converted into the Central Maine Pre-Release Center in 1979, but that facility was shuttered in 2013.

“Those little infirmary rooms were great as little cells for people to stay in,” Pakulski said. “But they are not practical for anything else unless you made it into a call center or something.”

The campus, built in the late 1870s as a boarding school for girls, has housed several state agencies over the years, including the Department of Marine Resources and the Natural Resources Service Center. Currently, the only occupied building is the Reed Center, headquarters for Regional School Unit 2, which has operated out of the complex for about two decades.

RSU 2 purchased their building and between five and 10 acres of land from the state after a $1-a-year lease expired in June. Superintendent William Zima could not be reached for comment, but Walker said the school district “has maintained and improved their building, so it was natural to convey that portion to them.”

The mayor pictures the remaining 50-plus acres as a mixed-use facility containing some open space, trails, affordable housing and office space.

“Over the last 10-20 years, we’ve lost what some would call affordable housing,” he said. “We have fewer apartments available today, and some have been built up to where they are desirable but no longer considered affordable, so I think affordable housing would be the No. 1 need.”

Back in 2008, the state tried to sell the complex, but due in part to the economic downtown, they found no takers. Walker said the real estate market is emerging and the local area is seeing new development, so it is “a better time now that will make (Stevens School) look more attractive to developers.”

But Pakulski cautioned that the property remains problematic the longer it sits vacant.

“To be able to transform the buildings into places that would be safe, comfortable and functional is going to be a lot of effort and a lot of money,” he said. “To a buyer, in many respects it’s going to look like more trouble than it’s worth.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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