LUBEC, Maine — Members of a community volunteer group, Lubec Community Outreach Committee, unveiled an ambitious plan this week to convert the town’s empty high school into a multi-use community center. The center could serve everyone from babies in a day care setting to seniors who gather for meals and conversation.
More than three dozen people came to an informational meeting Monday night and a majority expressed support for the plan which would not be taxpayer funded.
Cathy Arrington, chairman of the Lubec Community Outreach Committee, explained that the rejuvenation of the school is an extention of the town’s already successful summer recreation program and after-school youth activities. The 14-room high school section, which is the eastern section of the Lubec Consolidated School, was abandoned three years ago when the school board voted to send all high school students — about 40 children — to Shead High School in Eastport, Washington Academy in East Machias and Machias Memorial High School. The rest of the school is still operating and serving about 102 elementary students, according to Principal Tin Wormell.
Arrington explained that the school board is contemplating demolishing the high school section and the Lubec Community Outreach Committee is looking to not only save the facility but transform it into a community asset. Arrington acknowledged that the committee’s plans are ambitious and would have to be initiated one step at a time as affordable. The wishes include a community kitchen, thrift shop and food outlet, a community greenhouse, day care center, vocational workshop, game room, youth program center and a food pantry.
By taking over the high school and paying its own utilities and heating, the group estimated it could save the school district more than $17,000 that the district is now spending on keeping the space heated.
“These are not just ideas that came from LCOC members,” Arrington stressed. “These came directly from community focus groups held last fall.” She said that each program would either be fully funded through grants or self-sustained through fees or charges, such as the day care and community kitchen.
Some residents, including a group of school children attending the meeting, said the center could become a draw for new development and a reason for children and families to remain or return to Lubec.
“Do we want to keep our families and our seniors living here?” asked Marchi Chaffee. “This is about family.”
Several pre-teens in an after-school program said the center would keep teens off the streets and give them a reason to stay in Lubec after graduation. One young mother said the plan “is the first time in 10 years that I have pride in Lubec and can see a vision for the future.”
Arrington said the Washington County Council of Governments is working with the Lubec Community Outreach Committee to develop the center’s plans and identify funding sources. “This can be an economic engine,” David Gage said. “This can create jobs.”
However, two selectmen said they wanted to see a more detailed business plan and were afraid that the effort would fail because of heavy reliance on volunteers.
Maureen Glidden, chairman of the board, and Michael Scrivani, vice chairman, expressed concerns that the empty high school might not be the best location for a center and that the outreach committee had not done enough research into its plan, a short-sightedness that could cause the project to fail.
“I’m not against this,” Scrivani said. “But I have a gut feeling that this is the wrong location.” He said having trucks making deliveries and people coming and going could be a distraction for elementary students.
Glidden said she wanted to see a much more detailed business plan and also was concerned that the volunteer pool of help would dry up in 10 years and leaving the project to be abandoned. Both selectmen said they were concerned that taxpayer dollars would eventually be used to support the center.
Lubec Community Outreach Committee members repeatedly said the project would be self-sustaining and that until the school board indicated it would be willing to lease the facility, it would be foolish to continue with a formal plan.
“Determining whether the space will even be available to use is part of the plan,” Rob Chaffee said. “We fully recognize that we will need a detailed plan to move forward.”
“We will be diligent,” Arrington said. “If the town has wonderful programs for 10 years and then it folds, that’s better than having nothing for 10 years.”
When one resident accused the two selectmen of being “negative,” Glidden accused the committee members of not listening to those expressing concerns about the project and she left the meeting.
After Glidden walked out, Arrington acknowledged that the project will take planning and dedication. “There is a history here of things coming and leaving,” she said. “It is a reality and a challenge for us.”
Arrington said the Lubec Community Outreach Committee has asked to be placed on the school board’s May agenda to discuss the plan and see if the board will agree to lease the facility.