SKOWHEGAN — It was a long “perp walk” 25 years ago for inmates from the old county jail on Court Street to the old District Court on Water Street. The former jail is now the Somerset Grist Mill with 11 employees producing 700 to 1,000 tons of grain annually.

The District Court moved to a new building on Court Street in 1997. The old one has been empty ever since.

If all goes well for officials at the Cornville Regional Charter School, the former courtroom with vintage theater seating, high ceilings, transoms and ornate woodwork above Holland’s Variety Drug will become offices, classrooms and conference rooms for a new downtown charter high school.

The meeting and public hearing with school officials and the Skowhegan Planning Board is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Town Office on Water Street. The site plan application has been submitted by Wentworth Partners & Associates Inc. and Steve Govoni, of Skowhegan, on behalf of the Cornville Regional Charter School.

Travis Works, executive director of the charter school, said they are in the process of buying the entire building from Kevin Holland, owner of Variety Drug, which moved to High Street a couple of years ago. Works said the school is borrowing and financing the $250,000 needed to purchase the building, which also includes ground floor space occupied by the Skills Inc. thrift store and Ginny’s Natural Corner health food store, both of which will remain in place.

The Cornville Regional Charter School, which became Maine’s first elementary charter school in 2012, was given state approval by the Maine Charter Commission in December to add a charter high school and pre-kindergarten classes to its program. The school aims to be the first pre-K through grade 12 charter school in the state.

The building was constructed in 1905, and Works said the plan is to restore the interior and exterior to its original beauty, but with folding glass walls for classrooms downstairs in the former drug store and an elevator that will go to the second floor and all the way to the roof top, where gardens are proposed.

“It’s going to be 1905 meeting the 21st century,” he said. “We’re going to be bringing it back to the original. Everything is being re-shifted. It’s going to have full historical renovations.”

The former drug store, with entrances on both Water Street and Commercial Street, has 5,000 square feet of space. Walls can be used to designate five classrooms or be folded down to open the area up for what Works calls collaborative work space.

“We’ll have glass folding walls. The reason is that we run on a metaphor that learning is transparent, so we want to keep that theme,” he said. “You can create different size rooms at any different point. Kids can work in a flexible work environment and groups can assemble.”

Science, technology, engineering and math will share space with the conventional three Rs.

Upstairs, where the court, district attorney’s office, probate judge and lawyers’ offices were located, is 10,000 square feet of space, all of which will be used for school offices and student project rooms.

Works said the main entrance to the school will be on the Commercial Street side, which is quieter and has less traffic and a crosswalk with caution lights on demand. Students, parents and visitors will enter the school from there, where the main office for the principal and administrative assistant and lobby will be.

A set of stairs leading up to the former courtroom will be removed and replaced with a new stairwell that meets today’s codes.

Works noted that, in the style of a charter school, the classrooms will not be designated in grade levels for high school, such as the conventional 10th, 11th and 12th grades, but will be organized according to advancement of students age 12-20.

The elementary charter school is organized in the same way for students age 5-14, so there will some overlap between the two campuses, Works said.

“We put the learners where they need to be when they need to be socially, academically and emotionally,” Works said.

Works said the school is expanding to include 32 pre-kindergarten students in two daily sessions at the former Kelly’s Learning Loft and Out Of The Box Play Land on South Factory Street. Plans to use the Skowhegan nursery school on Dr. Mann Road have been scrapped.

He said he expects 45 students in the charter high school the first year and eventually 240 students. The Cornville campus serves a population of approximately 144 students in grades K-8 from 11 surrounding communities.

Works said the school will hire a full-time physical education teacher and hopes to utilize athletic space at the town recreation center or at the LC Dill center owned by Skills Inc. next to the Skowhegan Opera House.

Public concern from business owners along busy Water Street about parking and safety have been addressed, Works said, with the designation of the main entrance on Commercial Street, where there is less traffic. As for parking, a private park-and-ride lot has been established on U.S. Route 201 about 2 miles north of downtown.

“If kids drive, they park and we bus them in. Our buses will pick them up,” he said. “It will tap into the busing system that we currently have.”

On the upper floor of the building, where the court and attorney offices once were, Works said the hardwood floors will be restored or replaced along with the original 1905 wainscotting, ornate staircase and wood trim around the doors and windows. Some of the walls will be removed to provide open “convention center grade” space for multiple uses, including classrooms, teachers’ offices or lecture rooms.

Works said the building was well constructed with steel I-beams and yellow pine pillars throughout. He said the building never even got wet during the flood of 1987.

“We want to blend 1905 and the 21st century together,” he said. “They did some renovations and we’re going to restore it back to 1905.”

Work is scheduled to begin immediately after a decision Tuesday night by the Planning Board. Classes are expected to begin in August.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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