April 07, 2020

Council weighs Peirce School options

BELFAST – Uses ranging from a Montessori school to a school for music and the performing arts and an art studio-residence are among the options facing the City Council as it decides on the sale of the Peirce School.

City Manager Terry St. Peter said he expected the council to make a decision on the offers by the end of the month.

“We want to have a full public review,” St. Peter said Tuesday. “We are talking about the disposal of a public building and that must become public. The public will have the opportunity to weigh in.”

The city acquired the school two years ago after SAD 34 opened the Captain Albert W. Stevens Elementary School.

A private school, Walsingham Academy, purchased the property a short time later but ownership of the school reverted to the city after the academy closed in June.

A committee formed two years ago to review and market the school property has recommended that it continue to be used by the public, preferably as a school if possible.

Cornerspring Montessori School, which operates a kindergarten on Congress Street, wants to expand its educational program to children up to the age of 12. The school has offered to buy the Peirce School for $100,000 and would agree to pay taxes on the property based on a valuation of $200,000 for seven years. After that, taxes would be based on fair market value.

Cornerspring Montessori “would be the answer” to many parents’ and students’ problems, the proposal says. “In addition to providing extra programs, it would develop a strong community for families to belong to.”

John and Stephanie Clapp, owners of the Cellar Door Winery in Lincolnville, want to convert the school into a combination art studio-residence. The studio would be located on the first floor with the residence above. The Clapps have offered $250,000 for the school and informed the city that their bank already has agreed to finance the purchase price as well as their planned improvements.

William Ryan and Joseph Dore III want to establish the Belfast Academy of Music and the Performing Arts at the school.

Ryan is a city resident and is the owner of the Ryan Gallery on Main Street. Ryan and Dore have offered $265,000 for the building and are amenable to making payments in lieu of taxes. They estimate that renovations would cost an additional $60,000. They envision opening the academy next summer.

The academy “intends to create a facility that serves the community, provides public access, and will fill in the gap currently existing in public music education,” the proposal states.

Operated as a nonprofit business, the academy intends to provide music instruction and concerts for area schoolchildren, private instruction in music theory, harmony, performance and studio recording.

Mayor Michael Hurley said the council has a tough decision to make. He noted, however, that the study group of two years ago was unanimous in its desire to keep the school as a public facility.

“My position is that the Peirce School has been a public school for 85 years and it has enormous historical and social importance for the city,” Hurley said Tuesday. “I support the idea of keeping the public and kids in it if at all possible. … There are three terrific proposals and that’s the problem.”

Correction: This article appeared on page B3 in the State edition.

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