The town of Topsham will transfer rights to the former Pejepscot Mill School off River Road to Pejepscot Industrial Park, Inc., which owns the former Pejepscot Mill property. The building has housed a Head Start program for more than a decade. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

TOPSHAM — Topsham selectmen decided last week to turn a century-old school building back over to the current property owner, raising fears from some residents that the building may be in jeopardy.

The Pejepscot Mill School, located at 14 Pejepscot Village Main St. off River Road, was built as part of Pejepscot Village, a small community of homes with its own store, post office and school that supported Pejepscot paper mill workers. Built in the late 1890s, the mill property is now owned by Pejepscot Industrial Park, Ink. Grimmel Industries, an affiliate of that corporation, operates a scrap metal recycling plant at the former mill site.

The former paper mill owner, Pejepscot Paper Co., granted the town the rights in 1899 to use the school building. That deed specifies that at any point it is no longer used as a school, the building will revert back to the paper company, according to Town Manager Derek Scrapchansky. Those rights were transferred from the town to Maine School Administrative District 75 in 1976 and back to the town in 2007. The school district had been leasing the building to Midcoast Maine Community Action’s Head Start program, which the town continued to do while also maintaining the building.

Scrapchansky said Midcoast Maine Community Action was unsure earlier this year if it would extend its lease with the town, which ends June 30. The organization was considering consolidating schools at another location. Scrapchansky said Pejepscot Industrial Park is offering to continue an annual lease for up to a decade for the Head Start program if it chooses to remain.

Some residents have raised concerns over the town relinquishing its rights to the building, particularly if Head Start doesn’t continue to lease the building. Selectboard Chairman David Douglass read three letters from residents during the virtual meeting Thursday.

“Grimmel Industries has a history of tearing down buildings in that area and I cannot see what interest they would have in that property, nor why they would basically be given the property,” Rachael Reynolds of River Road wrote in an email to selectmen.

The town tried to protect the building in 2007 by nominating it for the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was rejected because the building didn’t meet the criteria, largely because of modifications made to the building including vinyl siding and window replacements.

At the end of the day, “it’s not ours,” said Douglass.

Selectwoman Ruth Lyons said that while she would like to save the school building, but it is riddled with title issues and is a financial burden on the town.

Asked how much the town spends on average annually on maintaining the building, Scrapchansky said Friday he didn’t know. The building, which wasn’t being taxed, now will be. The property has an assessed value of $220,000.

Selectman Matt Nixon was the lone dissenting vote on transferring the property to Pejepscot Industrial Park, Inc.




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