Committee Says Old School House Should Remain Freedom’s Town Office

Freedom — November 25, 2010 – A town committee charged with looking at alternative uses for Old School House recommends continuing to use the building as town offices rather than selling it or converting it into another use.

Many residents have an emotional attachment to the building, located on a steep hill at 33 Old Portland Road. It was constructed in the late 1800s and served as a school for 90 years until it was transformed into town offices about 25 years ago. The Old School House also serves as the police department.

There are a number of issues with the building including the location, lack of space and storage, handicap accessibility, and fire protection. Further, the police department has little privacy and resident have been known to interrupt sensitive interviews by knocking on the door. The department also lacks the proper facilities for booking. In March, voters authorized selectmen to appoint a committee to look at other uses for the building.

The Old School Future Use Committee identified nine possible alternative uses and then ranked them in order of preference. Each option was also given a score with low numbers representing the preferred options. The options and the order of the committee’s preference and their scores: office campus 22; office with a modified upgrade 23; fitness center 31; craft center 32; office with a full upgrade 41; activity center 48; sell building 49; child day care 56; and adult day care 58.

Changing the use of the building would trigger zoning regulations that would require major upgrades and thus increased cost. So, for example, cost to turn it into a fitness center or a day care could be about $250,000. Continuing to use the building as a town office would assume that the police department moves elsewhere, according to the committee’s report.

The office campus option would be to purchase some or all of the nearby buildings (Mason’s Lodge and the Rivard house) to be used as office space. The major advantage of this option is it would keep municipal government in the village and would address code issues in a less expensive fashion than a full upgrade. However, the campus option would be pricy at an estimated cost of between $500,000 and $750,000. A modified upgrade would cost between $500,000 and $600,000. An upgrade with an expansion could cost nearly $1 million.

Interestingly, most of the committee didn’t favor selling the building, which was the least expensive option. The sale itself would generate $100,000 and then the building would generate $2,500 in property taxes per year. Selling the building was estimated to have a low risk of failure.

“The general consensus was we shouldn’t let the building part from the town’s hands,” said committee chairman John Shipman.

The committee is scheduled to meet with selectmen on Monday Nov. 29.

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