Peru deciding future of former school

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PERU — Residents voted last month to spend $170,000 on the old Peru Elementary School, which now serves as the town’s community center.

The money would come from the town’s surplus fund.

Peru selectmen and Friends of Peru Elementary School, or FPES, must next negotiate a contract guiding how the old school will be used and managed.

Nick Waugh, president of FPES, said he was surprised by the vote Nov. 6, fearing it would be split and result in the building’s being razed.

An engineer’s report commissioned by selectmen and delivered in July offered two options for the former school.

The first option, now approved by voters, called for bringing the school up to code — for business, mercantile and assembly use — at a cost of $168,500, which would include installation of a sprinkler system at about $120,000.

An inspection by the state Fire Marshal’s Office found the building violates safety codes, which meant no more theater shows or thrift shop at the former school.

“Without mercantile, the community center won’t sustain,” Waugh said. “We want it to outlive FPES.”

The second option in the engineer’s report had a projected cost of $39,500 and would only allow business uses, prohibiting residents from using the center’s gym and kitchen, and disallowing the display or sale of merchandise.

Waugh said FPES will seek a three-year contract to manage the building, and it hopes to work with selectmen to devise a plan for the building’s use.

“This has to be put into something the town can get behind,” Waugh said.

The community center is used by groups, including the Rumford Senior Citizens, Servant’s Heart Food Pantry and local Girl Scouts. FPES hopes to bring back Everyone Acts Theater, the thrift shop and event space — each a potential source of revenue.

“The $170,000 won’t do all we need it to,” Waugh said. “We would pursue grant funding, and hope the center will earn a viable income to continue.”

Funding could come through a Rural Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Waugh said the center has a good chance of receiving the grant.

“We can say the town is behind us,” he said. “We have a secure voting record.”

Selectmen and members of FPES are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Office to negotiate a contract on the school’s use.

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Selectmen and the Friends of Peru Elementary School, or FPES, are deciding the future of the old school, now used as the town’s community center. (Sun Journal File Photo)

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