PERU — Townspeople will decide the former Peru school building’s fate this fall, and there are some questions as to what should happen to it.

At an informational and planning meeting on Aug. 3, residents and the school building’s study committee discussed numerous choices. For three years, the committee has been meeting to try to determine what to do.

“There are a whole bunch of issues to handle with this building and this whole complex,” said Selectman James Pulsifer, noting that use of the ball field and property had to be considered.

The Town Office is in a building behind the former school and had been built as an addition to the school complex many years ago. When it moved from Peru Center Road last year, the town was left with a surplus of empty building space.

With the economic recession, the town has not been able to find buyers for the school building. Building Committee member Nick Waugh pointed out that even when the economy was stronger several years ago, the town couldn’t find takers for it.

Resident Richard Powell noted that the large building was never advertised with a Realtor. “There are people that specialize in that,” he said.

Pulsifer outlined three of the options, including keeping it as a community building, leasing it or selling it. A survey was taken when the committee began its work; leasing the structure to the University of Maine at Augusta generated the most interest. The university had been looking to expand, but decided not to do that.

“I felt we kind of put all our eggs in one basket thinking that UMA was the option that was materializing,” said Building Study Committee representative Skip MacFawn. He added that many towns are in the same situation with schools closing.

“I think we shot ourselves in the foot when we moved the Town Office up here,” Bob Dolloff said. “We should have sold this complex to get it back on the tax rolls. I recommend selling the whole thing, moving the Town Office back down there, and if you need more room, add onto it.”

Pulsifer noted that an issue with closing the large building is that it supplies water for the Town Office complex. To close it and prevent damage from water running through frozen pipes in the winter, the Town Office would need a separate artesian well.

Tearing down the building was another debated choice. One suggestion was to take the old town office off the market, let the Peru Historical Society move into the facility and deed the Rockomeka Grange Hall back to the Grange.

However, Pulsifer cautioned against tearing down the former school building, pointing out that it had historical significance. He explained that residents could use the building and complex for multiple purposes.

Resident Steve Fuller asked how much it would cost to use the facility for the town. Pulsifer responded that it would cost just under $10,000 per year to heat and maintain the structure.

Fire Chief Bill Hussey mentioned that the building was thought of as a good potential training facility for firefighter education in Western Maine. He noted that a class had been held there and the instructors were impressed with the space.

Several of those present noted the number of Peru residents living on fixed incomes. They questioned the feasibility of continuing to heat and maintain the facility even though it wasn’t being used.

Selectman Tim Holland urged the gathering to think creatively.

“What I’m hearing is we don’t have the money to maintain it: Tear it down, drain the pipes,” he said. “Let’s make an investment in this town. This town has had nothing but this school as a community center, period.”

Holland pointed out that a portion of the building could be demolished and another part preserved. He praised the town’s recreation department and the work volunteers had done with upkeep of the facilities on the lot, including the ball field.

Pulsifer added that the town would grow and the school lot had the perfect facility to accommodate the growth.

Some in the audience, however, noted that people voted at a June referendum not to maintain the school.
There were questions about how many options a stand-alone referendum question on the school’s disposition could have.

Pulsifer believed that in a referendum, a single article must have a “yes” or “no” vote on one option, but he would have to research it to be sure, he said.

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