MEXICO — As University College at Rumford/Mexico deals with a surge in student enrollment, it is also dealing with the possibility that it will need a new home.

More than 300 students take classes at the former convent next to the vacant St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, and many more take classes online, Director Jean Kay said.

“An axiom in higher education is when the economy is bad, enrollment is high,” Kay said. “People are tired of getting laid off and are coming back to school.”

The college has used the site at 13 Brown St. for 14 years. Its lease expires July 1.

Kay said the buildings were listed with Riverside Realty in Mexico on Thursday, with asking prices of $450,000 for the two-story building that serves as the college and $695,000 for the former church.

Sue Bernard, a spokeswoman for Maine’s Catholic diocese, said via e-mail that the diocese was placing both buildings on the real estate market. The diocese also plans to sell the adjacent rectory, she said.

“(The school) can continue to lease from us, and the new buyer can decide whether to renew their lease,” Bernard said in the e-mail.

St. Theresa’s Church and St. Joseph’s Church in Dixfield were closed when the area’s churches were clustered under the name of Parish of the Holy Savior last year. Only the Rumford and Bethel churches remain open and are served by one priest.

Kay said she hoped that whoever buys the building will continue to lease it to the college. The diocese offered to sell the building to the college, but the university system advocates leasing buildings, not buying them, Kay said. The Rumford/Mexico site is affiliated with the University of Maine at Augusta.

The search for another site had been ongoing for several years, Kay said, and had included consideration of the former SAD 43 central office, the former Peru school and the NewPage administrative building, among others. Now, tentative plans call for staying put or possibly seeking grants for the renovation of a floor in the River Valley Technology Center in Rumford.

Other tentative plans call for finding money to install an elevator in the current location so the second floor and the basement could be accessed by people with disabilities. A long-term lease would be required for that.

Kay said the administrative assistant soon to be hired would be tasked with searching for grants.

In the meantime, college enrollment is growing, largely because of the number of layoffs in the area. Kay said the most popular programs include associate and bachelor’s degrees in mental health and human services, and new programs offering certification in special education and elementary education.

Twenty or so live classes are taught each semester, with many more offered online, through videoconferencing or video streaming. 

Kay said she would like to see someone buy both the convent and church building and lease them to the college. The church would make a great place for art classes and performances, she said.

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St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, left, and the former convent that is leased to University College at Rumford/Mexico Center to the right and behind the trees, are both going up for sale. The rectory, located at the rear of the church and out of view, will also be put on the market.


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