Paris selectmen tour old school building

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PARIS – Selectmen were told Monday night that if they have an interest in acquiring the vacant Mildred M. Fox School, then they need to let SAD 17 officials know.

“Does Paris want it and how badly?” asked School Board Chairman Ron Kugell as he and SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman led Paris selectmen through the old school.

The Market Square building closed in February, replaced by the new Paris Elementary School on High Street.

In January, selectmen voted unanimously to indicate their interest in the building, but said they did not have a specific use in mind then. If the school relinquishes ownership of the building, the town would acquire it at no cost. However, school officials said the town would then become liable for the remainder of the approximately $50,000 note to pay off the new roof and would have to meet code requirements if it were to be used for a public purpose such as a town office.

Eastman said meeting code requirements would mean putting in a new heating and ventilation system, meeting handicap-accessibility regulations and other measures. That work has been estimated to cost about $1.3 million.

“Why would we want to put all that money into this?” Selectman Ernest Fitts asked.

The property contains the three-story brick school built in 1882 with a 1940s addition and about an acre of fenced-in land. The 14,000-square-foot building underwent a renovation in the 1940s. In 1985 it was gutted, removing all environmental hazards.

A new roof was recently installed that has a 20-year guarantee. But about $50,000 remains of the debt incurred in the new roof. Currently the eight towns in the district share in the repayment costs. Two portable classrooms have been moved to another school and the playground equipment will all be removed by the end of the summer.

Much of the historical interior architectural features such as the slate boards and wooden floors were removed over the years, but here and there a touch of the earlier school years can be seen in the central spiral wooden staircase, the stone foundation, old classroom doors, a Hallet and David upright piano and an old librarian’s desk.

Kugell, who also serves as chairman of the reuse committee, said the committee has received a number of reuse ideas ranging from a child care facility to television studio space. “We have all kinds of options,” he told selectmen.

Eastman said the school will keep a presence in the building throughout the next school year to prevent deterioration and vandalism, but it is uncertain if the school administrative offices will ever be housed there. The central office is in the Oxford Plaza strip mall on Route 26 in Oxford with a three-year lease.

Until consolidation plans are firmed up and SAD 17 knows if it will reorganize its central office with another district, Eastman said it is difficult to consider a move even to school property such ad the Fox school.

Officials will wait to hear from Paris selectmen and others who have expressed an interest in the property before deciding what the next move will be.

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