Rockland is hoping to soon take ownership of the McLain School and look for opportunities to turn the building into housing . Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― City officials have renewed interest in acquiring the 130-year old McLain School to potentially create affordable housing units there.

The school was built in 1896 and served students until about 20 years ago, when it became the administrative offices for Regional School Unit 13. The district agreed to give the city the school in 2017, but discussions fizzled after the city failed to solidify plans for the building and the district needed the space.

Next week, councilors are expected to begin the process of establishing a timeline to acquire the school from the district.

The district will need time, but school board members said Thursday they were committed to the deal.

“The RSU Board would like to express, once again, its desire to work with the Rockland City Council on other possible uses of the McLain School, including sharing space or a transfer of the property,” RSU 13 Board Chair Loren Andrews said in a letter to Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser.

Rockland officials began looking at the old school as an opportunity for housing development when the school district offered it up in 2017. With access to affordable housing a top priority for the city, the council now wants to reconsider the idea, according to Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell

“Housing is an obvious use for a relatively large building located within easy walking distance of downtown,” City Councilor Nate Davis said. “Apartment buildings are really bang for the buck in terms of housing the most number of people.”

A volunteer committee received several proposals to develop the McLain School for affordable housing in 2019, but it’s unclear why none were pursued.

With the McLain building back on the frontburner for the city, next steps will be conversations between either the committee or the city council at large. The city would then likely seek requests for proposals, Davis said.

The transfer likely will not happen this school year, according to RSU 13 Superintendent John McDonald, but once the deal is finalized the district could either continue to operate in the McLain School or lease a new space, he said.

At one time the city was considering the school as a possible new home for city hall. But a study conducted in 2019 determined it would cost over $3 million to make the move and needed upgrades in the building, a price too high for the city, Luttrell said.