Michael Dignan, director of the Paris Library, stands in the upstairs chapel of the Deering Memorial Community Center.



PARIS — In the upstairs chapel of the Deering Memorial Community Center, brown hammer beam trusses and supporting arches intricately cross, like fluid, cultivating in a x shaped intersection in the middle of the room.

According to Michael Dignan, Paris Library coordinator, the historic space would be perfect for concerts and community events during the winter months.

One problem puts a chilling effect on those plans. The space is frigid.

Dignan said when the former church was built in 1912, there was no isolation or gap between the steel roof and the outdoor elements. During hailstorms, the roar is intense, drowning out any conversation. The steel roof, last maintained over 20 years ago, is outdated, and Dignan said attempting to heat the upstairs would be a huge cost for the center, which is funded separately from the town and the library.

“We had open house when we first got the building (in 2016). We ran heat, it was end of March, it was about 25 degrees. We went through a quarter of a tank of oil that day,” he said. 

“We’ve only owned the building for two years in January. We’ve gone two winters without heat, and that’s all I’d push it,” he said. 

Trying to heat the uninsulated space in the winter would put strains on an already tight budget, said Dignan, and wouldn’t make economical or financial sense. Building a new, isolated roof would allow the space to be affordably heated during the winter, and open up the possibility for large concerts and shows to be hosted in the space.

Dignan said he’d been in contact with a couple places for bids, and most came in high. The lowest bid, was $95,000 for the roof. Dignan said the Community Center already put down $20,000, a sum made up of donations and grant money from the Steven and Tabitha King Foundation,  to pay for the metal for the roof.

That leaves the center responsible for raising $75,000; and there’s a time-crunch. If it raises $62,000 before June, the Davis Foundation will provide a $20,000 grant that will send the center well above it’s goal.

Still, that’s a big bill to foot.  When the Deering Memorial Methodist church was handed over to the library for a single dollar in January of 2016, it was under the understanding that it would remain self sustaining, drawing from neither the town (and by extension, taxpayer) budget, or the libraries’.

Dignan said the costs of up-keeping the facility yearly; a bare-bones, heat, sewer, water, and electric sum, is about $8,000 to $ 9,000. The center covers most of that through fundraisers, and renting out the space for private events. On top of raising money to cover operation costs, the center will now raise money for the roof. A Go-Fund Me started by Jennifer Lewis on Febuary 25 has raised $300, but Dignan said he’s in the process of filling out grants and soliciting money from local businesses to help with the goal.

Dignan also stated that the center would like to use any money raised to install an additional, handicap accessible bathroom upstairs.

Years ago, Dignan said, the church raised money to take down a tower; Dignan said he’s been asked about that money, and his organization has never seen it. Dignan said the history of the church is worth preserving. 

‘These guys knew what they were doing when they figured this out. We want to keep this beautiful interior, and keep the original vision in mind,” said Dignan.

The vision was imagined, and constructed,  in 1911 by Sidney Badgley and William H. Nicklas, prominent architects hired by Deering family, a West Paris family who were part founders of what became one of the largest corporations in the United States, the International Harvester Company.

“The interior is really special; the building is more square, not narrow in middle like a lot of churches, and the audience can be close to the stage. It makes a really good space for shows and musicals,” he said. 

It would also help the community center raise funds; it currently charges $10 per hour ($25 if the kitchen is used) for the downstairs space to be rented out for private events, and opening the upstairs would open the door for more varied events.

I’d like to do a family open mic up there. We have space…we can hold a lot of people, (the space) has great acoustics, and allows more activities that require a large space,” he said. “There’s not really a big community space (in the area)  that people can rent to hold an event, concert, or show.”

The original architects may have had a different vision for the space, but, for Dignan, his vision for the Deering Memorial Community Center is clear.

“The church gave it to us to have it available to the community..they were hoping we’d use it in a way that it would still remain part of the community,” he said.

And for Dignan, having the historic and striking part of the church available during the long, dreary winter months is a crucial part of that vision.

During a meeting on April 3, the Deering Memorial Community Center will host a public meeting where they will discuss a funding plan for the roof restoration project.

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