In a deal that closed Tuesday, the former T.C. Hamlin School in Randolph has been sold to a nonprofit organization that provides educational and support services to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Michelle Hathaway, director of the Margaret Murphy Centers, said parent organization John H. Murphy Homes Inc. acquired the 17,138-square-foot building on 2.8 acres with plans to operate it as a special purpose school for students from pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade. Margaret Murphy Centers for Children operates licensed special education placement and day treatment facilities across southern Maine.

“We’re quite excited,” Hathaway said.

“The building is in really good shape,” she said. “We’ll do some extensive roof repairs, and after some updated (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations, there’s not a lot that needs to be done.”

Hathaway said the first students are expected in mid-August, with additional students expected to enroll in September. In the first two years, a maximum of 30 students is anticipated. During that time, the school will employ 50-55 staff members, including educational specialists and therapists.

“We provide one-to-one programming,” she said. “Our students have significant behavioral and clinical needs.”

Classes may consist of only four or five students, which means a small enrollment can fill the school. The maximum anticipated enrollment is 45.

Hathaway said there had never been an opportunity to acquire a school building. So when the Randolph facility became available, the organization acted quickly to buy it. To build a comparable building would cost between $6 million and $7 million.

The school became available for sale after a months-long process in 2017 and 2018 by the Gardiner-area school district to evaluate whether it could afford to keep the elementary school open.

As in many other school districts in Maine, enrollment in School Administrative District 11 has been shrinking. While the district has had a policy of supporting community schools in each of its four communities, the T.C. Hamlin drew the attention of administrators and board members when only about 45 students enrolled at a school intended for about 155.

After an ad hoc committee of the school board made a recommendation to close the school over some local objections, school administrators and the elected school board followed the process laid out in state law to close the school. That included a vote of the board and a town-wide referendum, which favored closure.

The Randolph students have been transferred to what’s now the Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School just over a mile away. The school district brought in modular classrooms to accommodate the additional students and teachers.

Among the concerns in Randolph was the ownership of the school. For years, town officials have held the July annual Town Meeting in the gymnasium, and the school has served as a warming center for town residents, for which the town has paid for and installed a generator on school grounds.

As part of the process, the school was offered for sale to the town for an anticipated price of $461,000, but after debating the cost and possible uses at a public meeting, town officials declined to take action.

With that rejection, the school district then contacted the five charter schools that serve the area, and none of them expressed interest.

At that point, the school district listed it for sale at $550,000.

The school property, located on School Street just off Water Street, is mostly in Randolph’s urban residential zone, but a 250-foot-wide strip of property along Water Street is in the town’s downtown zone. The uses allowed, or those requiring additional review and approval, are very limited — residential, educational and offices.

Randolph Selectman Matthew Drost said Friday that the sale is good news for the town.

Under Randolph’s land use regulations, the building could continue to be used as a school for only a finite time. After a year of vacancy, the owner would have to seek permission from the Planning Board, he said.

“We’re glad to have anyone there,” Drost said.”It’s not great to see the building unused. There’s no need to see it deteriorate.”

Randolph Fire Chief Ron Cunningham said he has contacted school officials to talk about continued use of school facilities as a warming center.

“I wanted to let them know the generator was not part of the sale,” Cunningham said. “We’ll sit down and talk and work it out. (The generator) is there for everybody to use.”

“We want to be and are good neighbors,” Hathaway said. “We want the community to know what we do.”

She said her organization moved quickly on the opportunity and paid the asking price because other bids had been submitted on the property.

While John F. Murphy Homes paid the full asking price, it’s not pure windfall for SAD 11.

Several years ago, a district-wide construction project including work at T.C. Hamlin was financed with bonds, creating an obligation to be paid off.

Andrea Disch, business manager for the district, said the savings from closing the school were applied to the current year’s budget, and taxes decreased as a result.

Six decades ago, John F. Murphy was instrumental in paving the way to open an educational facility for children with intellectual disabilities in Lewiston. In the decades that followed, a foundation was formed to provide help with daily living skills and a home for adults with developmental disabilities.

The first Margaret Murphy Children’s Center to provide services to children with autism spectrum disorder opened in 2000.

The former T.C. Hamlin school will be the organization’s eighth center, Hathaway said. The private schools are overseen by the state Department of Education.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: