OAKLAND — Architecture students from the University of Maine at Augusta presented their design concepts this week for the $5 million restoration of historic Memorial Hall.

Town Manager Ella Bowman said she will use the students’ ideas and visual renderings to not only guide the town’s restoration of the landmark building, but to drum up support for the project and apply for federal grants.

The students on Monday presented five design concepts and Bowman said they exceeded her expectations.

Before contacting the community design program at UMA, Bowman said she had been drawing a blank on the project.

“But this is really exciting … I can see the public really using it,” she said Monday, looking over poster boards featuring the designs.

The students were given three weeks to think about how to breathe new life into the building, bringing it into compliance with federal and state codes while honoring its historic design elements. Memorial Hall, located at 26 Church St., was constructed in the 1870s and is one of only four buildings in Maine to serve as Civil War memorials.


Students said Monday they wanted to bring a modern perspective to the building with their designs.

“You want people to be here,” said fifth-year student Barclay Finck. “The space has to function and be resilient.”

While preserving the spirit of the building is important, Finck said if Memorial Hall is to become a community hub again, making it accessible to all will be key. All five designs included an elevator inside and a ramp outside of the building for disabled residents to access and enjoy the space.

“The building is one of the high marks of architecture in the area,” said the students’ supervisor, Assistant Professor Patrick Hansford.

Students from the University of Maine at Augusta’s Community Design Studio were at Memorial Hall in Oakland on Monday to present materials to community members and leaders. The architecture students’ site plans show ways the historic hall building could be renovated. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Memorial Hall is an example of Italian-Gothic style architecture, rare for a small rural community such as Oakland, according to the Oakland Area Historical Society.

Over the last 200 years the building has been home to a schoolhouse, bank, library, post office, fire station, town hall and more, as well as many community gatherings and performances. For the past 41 years it has housed a dance studio.


The students presented a range of ideas on how the town could use the space to not only bring residents together, but to generate revenue, too. One group pitched adding retail space to an area that was once the West Waterville Savings Bank, and another said the town should consider opening a café on the lower floor where there is now a small kitchen. A few groups said that adding a ticket office or green room could enhance its appeal as an arts venue.

“We could turn this into a playhouse, we could have our town meetings here … we want to bring culture back into Oakland,” Bowman said. “It’s got some issues, but anything can be fixed.”

Hansford, who joined UMA’s architecture program this year, said the purpose of the project was to generate ideas. Most of the restoration work, he said, is modest and more about cleaning up and enhancing the building’s original features than bringing in large additions or shiny new features.

“If you do it right, no one knows you’ve done it,” he said of preservation work.

The students said the project has been helpful in their development as budding architects.

“Projects like this bring a reality to what we’re doing in school,” fourth-year student Angie Beaulieu said.


Fourth-year student Gavin Poperechny said there’s a market for revamping and renovating older buildings and bringing them up to modern standards. Poperechny said the project has inspired him to pursue similar restoration projects after graduation.

Barclay Finck from the University of Maine at Augusta’s Community Design Studio fields questions Monday as he and classmates present materials to community members and leaders at Memorial Hall in Oakland. The architecture students’ site plans show ways the historic hall building could be renovated. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Finck said the process of getting feedback from a community instead of from other architects on his design was a “fantastic” experience, and will prepare him for building relationships with clients in his career.

The chairwoman of the Memorial Hall Committee, Kelly Roderick, said she felt the students truly heard her and other town officials when formulating their designs. Roderick herself was married in Memorial Hall, and says that town records indicate it was the beloved center of town for years before falling into disrepair.

Roderick planned to pin up the students’ designs at Oakland’s annual Town Meeting on Tuesday to get residents excited about the project and show just what could be accomplished in the space, she said.

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