Paris selectmen mull Fox School options

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PARIS — Paris selectmen have signaled their interest in acquiring a brick schoolhouse for future development, even as questions remain over where its students would wind up and how much it would cost to renovate.

Town officials took a field trip to Fox School along 10 Main St. during their biweekly meeting Monday evening, briefly suspending normal business to take a walk-through inspection of the building. 

The School Administrative District 17 board has offered the building free of charge. The Fox School houses Oxford Hills Christian Academy, a K-12 school with 40-plus students and staff, as well as adult-education classes.

If the school relinquishes ownership of the building, the town could acquire it at no cost.

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Looming as an unanswered question over that decision is what the town would do with the building. During the tour, selectmen indicated that acquiring the building was a long-term investment. 

“I don’t know right now. There’s so much potential. If we don’t come up with anything, we could always sell it,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Ryan Lorrain said. 

Selectwoman Janet Jamison said the building, which abuts the Little Androscoggin River, would make an ideal business incubator. 

“We have a chance to get an amazing building that’s in relatively good shape,” Jamison said. 

The 1882, three-story brick building in Market Square is leased on an annual basis. The Oxford Hills Christian Academy, which serves the region as a religious school, moved into the building after SAD 17 vacated the school in the winter of 2007 when the new Paris Elementary School on High Street opened.

In 2007, Paris selectmen unanimously voted to indicate their interest in the building, though they said at the time they did not have a specific use in mind. 

The district is responsible for the maintenance of Fox School, but the Christian Academy’s lease payment covers most of the utility costs, which run approximately $22,000 annually.

Questions over the cost to bring the building into compliance with certain health and safety codes remain.

Because the building’s status as a school is grandfathered, the building does not have to meet certain standards — such as the installation of an elevator. Changes in how the building is used, however, will require the owner to make those changes, according to SAD 17 facilities director Nelson Baillargeon.

About a decade ago, the district commissioned a study, which estimated it would cost in the region of $1 million to renovate the building, Baillargeon said. That tally included measures likely above and beyond compliance, including pouring a new foundation. 

With those costs in mind, selectman Robert Wessels said he’s reluctant to know what to think about the opportunity without knowing how much repairs will cost and what the town will do with the building.

“On the one hand, they’re willing to give it up. On the other hand, there’s no need,” Wessels said. “Thirty years from now, we don’t want to be kicking ourselves for a missed chance.”  

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