Perlene Mecervier, a former Mildred M. Fox School student, points to her brother Tuesday in a photo at the former Paris elementary school. Sun Journal photo by Jon Bolduc

Bonnie Ripley in her vintage Mildred M. Fox School shirt on the steps of the Paris building Tuesday. She was a longtime employee at the school, which has been converted to senior housing. Sun Journal photo by Jon Bolduc

PARIS — Bonnie Ripley spent a combined 30 years at Mildred M. Fox School as a student and later an educational technician.

She was among those on the grounds of the former school to attend the formal opening Tuesday of Avesta Housing’s new 12-unit senior housing complex.

Ripley walked through the building on East Main Street, each room a memory.

“They’ve done a wonderful job,” she said, of keeping the historic interior and spirit of the school alive.

Andrea Burns taught at the school for 25 years, and was heavily involved with the preservation efforts.

Speaking to the crowd of more than 100 gathered in front of the complex, Burns said the school was worth saving.

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“Some historic buildings matter,” she said. “They reflect architectural integrity, contain embodied energy and have over the years served their communities. They become distinctive cultural landmarks. Since 1883, with major remodeling in 1940, this building is one of those legacy icons.

“In these times of frantic, sometimes thoughtless development, historic buildings are vulnerable to demolition. It is so fortunate for our community that Avesta saw potential in the Fox School for adaptive use as a senior residence.”

More than 100 people attend the formal opening Tuesday of Avesta Housing’s senior apartment complex at the former Mildred M. Fox School in Paris. Sun Journal photo by Jon Bolduc

Rebecca Hatfield, vice president of real estate development and management for Avesta Housing, said the company received a spike in seniors seeking affordable housing in 2018.

“Too many Mainers are struggling to find adequate housing,” she said. “In 2018 alone, Avesta Housing received requests from 4,000 households, the largest number of requests in our 47-year history. We were only able to help 373 of those households, and the rest are stuck on waiting lists.”

The Fox School is Avesta Housing’s latest answer to that problem. For a one-bedroom apartment, rents are between $565 and $678 per month with a minimum monthly income requirement of $1,317 and a maximum annual income limit of $25,320 for a one-person household.

Rusty Brackett, chairman of Paris Board of Selectmen and a lifelong resident of the area, said most of the school buildings he attended are gone.

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“I did my elementary school in the yellow building in Norway, which is gone,” he said. “I did some of junior high and high school in the old Paris High building, which is gone. It sure is good to see this building still here.”

People were offered tours of the renovated brick schoolhouse.

Pausing in a hallway, former Fox School student Perlene Mecervier spotted her brother in a black-and-white photograph hung on one wall. She lived on Park Street, minutes away, and would “run away” to school when she was too young to attend, she said. Her brother would have to bring her back home.

Julie Dean attended the school in the 1990s and remembers playing tetherball and playing on the jungle gym and swing sets.

The children who once played and attended classes at the site have moved on, and the school also has taken on a new life. According to Hatfield, eight residents have moved in and four more will do so in the next few weeks.

But Ripley, clad in a green Mildred M. Fox shirt, said the memories and friendships made in the historic building remain in the forefront of her mind.

“The staff, it was more like a family, it really was,” she said. “We had very close ties, all of us. I really enjoyed my years here.”


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