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Panel likely to recommend former Spurwink School as home to historical collections

The committee charged with reviewing proposals for reuse of the former Spurwink School/Thomas Memorial Library is poised to recommend the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society as the building's next occupant.

The Town Council on March 12, 2018 voted to extend the deadline for the committee's final report 60 days - to May 11 - to allow a final meeting and to draft a formal recommendation for council consideration.

Receiving the report and considering further action is a 2018 goal for the Town Council.

Extending the committee's deadline is a first step toward that goal, said Council Chair Jessica Sullivan, with a next step, on receipt of the recommendation, to hold a workshop to look more closely at budget and other implications. "If we keep this (building) it needs to be occupied. But I remember well the antecdotal estimates of what it's going to cost to put this building to rights. So I'm sure there is probably going to be a workshop discussion in the near future," she said.

The building is currently located next to the Thomas Memorial Library on Scott Dyer Road, where it served as the children's library before the main library's renovations in 2015-16; and as the town's sole library before it was expanded in 1985. It's been at its current location since 1944, having moved to the town center from its original Bowery Beach Road.

The building was constructed in 1849 as a one-room school house.

"While not on the national historic register, it certainly is a very sentimental building in Cape Elizabeth," Sullivan said.

Town residents in a 2015 survey said they would like to see the building serve a public use. Various parties submitted proposals, but all withdrew except for the Historical Preservation Society.

Jim Rowe, president of the society, told councilors the society is grateful for the space it currently uses in the town's public safety building, but they need more. "History is a cumulative thing, we don't get rid of stuff as quickly as we bring in stuff and so we need more room. The Spuriwnk School seems like a natural fit," Rowe said.

"Speaking on behalf of the society I'm thrilled to see this memo that committee chairman Garvin passed out tonight because it means the ball is moving forward," he said.

Jamie Garvin, town councilor who is chairing the Spurwink School Committee, agreed that the society's tenancy make sense, but also that a number of questions, "around costs and improvements and necessary repairs and renovations and fit-out for the building," need answers.

He personally apologized for the time it has taken the committee to reach consensus, citing turnover in leadership in the Facilities Department and the withdrawal of competing proposals as some of the reasons.

The committee plans to meet for a formal vote on its recommendation in late March, and to present its report at the council's meeting April 9.