The Plummer School, Falmouth

The Plummer School has stood as a landmark in the town of Falmouth since its construction in the early 1930s. The impressive two-and-a-half story Colonial Revival style high school, flanked by two-story wings to the east and west, was constructed in two phases c.1930-31 and 1935. Built primarily of brick with wooden clapboards at the gable ends, the roofline features an original, copper-domed clock tower, undoubtedly the building’s most iconic feature. Added to these features are finely crafted brick cornices and arched door heads. On the interior, the building retains many of the original classrooms, central corridors, and stairs.

Following nearly a decade of committee hearings, public meetings, and a town-wide referendum, an innovative agreement formalized a public-private partnership between the developer and Town of Falmouth to rehabilitate the building. While Falmouth is a historic town, there are few historic public buildings of note, so preserving the building and re-purposing it with a public mission were goals of central importance.

Devising a financially viable plan for the project was not easy. The first attempt to establish the building’s eligibility for Historic Tax Credits failed. A year-long proposal process to convert the building into a new Library also failed to garner the necessary support. However, with the guidance and expertise of project partners Sutherland Consulting, Developers Collaborative and OceanView at Falmouth, historic tax credit eligibility was gained in 2016 and work began on converting the historic school into one of very few senior communities designed for moderate income residents. 

Today, the completed apartments wrap around a large common area in the center of the building -- once site of the high school gym. The wood windows are restored originals now fitted with exterior storms. On the walls, much of the original plasterwork survives and a historic chair rail was replicated for installation throughout the building. Workers removed contemporary carpeting as well as linoleum and layers of various adhesives, exposing the original hardwood floors, which were sanded and finished. Outside, they scraped and painted the clock tower and dentil molding, and carefully repaired the school’s impressive slate roof.

The impact of Plummer School’s rehabilitation and re-use has been felt throughout the community of Falmouth. Besides providing much-needed senior housing, the revitalization of this space highlights the perseverance of a local community in protecting and celebrating one of the towns prized historic public buildings.

John E. L. Huse School Apartments, Bath

Named to honor Bath’s first casualty of World War II, the John E.L. Huse Memorial School was constructed in 1942 according to plans drawn by architect Alonzo J. Harriman, a native of Bath and founder of Harriman Associates. The school served the children of Bath Iron Works employees, a growing population that necessitated the addition of a new wing of classrooms at the North End of the building just seven years later.

Huse thrived throughout the baby boom years, but the student population here and elsewhere in Maine gradually declined, and in 2006 the City of Bath shuttered the school. Regional School Unit 1 occupied the International-style building for several years, but when they moved out, the 33,000-sq. ft. community anchor began to deteriorate.  Thankfully, the Szanton Company saw the value in the historic structure and purchased it in August 2016 with the intention of converting the space into residential apartments.

While vacant, Huse School did suffer from the effects of water damage, broken windows and graffiti. Overall, however, the condition of the building was excellent—the original wood joists and masonry bearing walls were in very good shape. The hardwood floors, under several layers of glue, carpet, and pads, were also in amazingly good condition.

With a firm plan in place to add a new wing and transform the historic complex into 59 affordable housing units, renovations began by exposing interior brick walls, removing small amounts of asbestos and lead paint, and refinishing the original hardwood floors. New roofing and insulation buttoned up the building and new walls framed the contemporary apartments.  Modern electrical and mechanical systems were promptly installed.

Today, the school retains its historic mid-century vibe with original signage at the 1942 front canopy, as well as period-appropriate replacement doors and windows. Common areas are sprinkled with memorabilia such as vintage classroom clocks, sections of original chalkboard, original blueprints, student murals, and historic school and class pictures. The one-time gymnasium was modified and converted into a common room and several two-story apartment units. Other amenities include a lobby with a fully accessible elevator, new entrances, and both fitness and laundry rooms. The Szanton Company did extensive site work to build a large, modern neighborhood playground, an expanded parking lot, landscaping that includes many evergreen trees, and new walking paths that feed into existing city trails.

The community response has been overwhelming, and just a week after opening 78% of the units had been rented. This remarkable project honors the schools’ namesake and its historic character while providing much needed affordable housing for the deserving citizens of Bath.