TOPSHAM — A building constructed in 1896 as a place to educate children will soon become a home for senior citizens.

The former John A. Cone School on Elm Street will open next month as the newest member of the Highlands retirement community. The school building will be an upscale, four-unit rental called the Olde Town Hall Apartments, for people 55 and older.

It was formerly known as the Topsham Grammar or Village School where Topsham children through eighth grade were educated, according to a Jan. 12 Highlands news release. Fire damaged the building in 1965, and the students moved to the Williams-Cone School.

The building was salvageable, and the following year reopened as Topsham Town Hall. It stayed that way for four decades, until construction of the Topsham Municipal Building.

The Highlands, known for preserving and reusing historic Topsham properties such as the Holden Frost and Benjamin Porter houses, purchased the former Town Hall in 2008.

With two out of the four new apartments already rented, others are seeing that potential as well.

The Highlands has “believed in preserving the past; that’s what you need to do,” Susan Sorg, sales associate with the company, said during a recent tour of the building. “And this is part of Topsham’s Historic District. So we want to be in step with the neighborhood and with the town.”

While the hallway and staircase evoke the old Town Hall, the building feels new. Its rooms have 11-foot ceilings, granite countertops, gas fireplaces, and new appliances, as well as new windows that fit into the same spaces as the originals.

“This doesn’t look like your typical apartment in a retirement community,” Sorg noted.

One former Cone school student touring the renovated space remembered how cold it had been, particularly near the windows, Sorg recalled.

“We’ve taken care of that,” Sorg said, with energy-efficient retrofits. The building is heated by natural gas.

The units – sized between 1,330 and 1,530 square feet – cost from $3,100-$3,800 a month, and include access to a fitness center, housekeeping, scheduled transportation, dining program and maintenance.

All units have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and their own garage bays in a new building nearby.

One unit on the second floor has a large set of windows that face Elm Street, where horses and buggies gave way to Model Ts, Sorg pointed out.

But unlike those vehicles, the Olde Town Hall is no longer relegated to the past.

“It’s rehabbed; it’s starting a new life,” she said. “When people move here, they start a new life; they start a new chapter. It’s not the end; it’s the beginning of something new. And that’s what I think this building has to offer.”


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