National Register

Waldo Theatre, c. 1937

The Story

Just north east of the old brick Custom House on Main Street in the village of Waldoboro sits the Waldo Theatre. New York lumber dealer Carroll T. Cooney commissioned the building in 1936, hiring New York theater architect Benjamin Schlanger to design a movie theater for the town and surrounding areas of Midcoast Maine. Opening in 1937 during the depths of the Great Depression, the Waldo provided an inexpensive and dignified escape from the rigors of the time. On the exterior, the two-story brick, steel, and concrete building is Neo-Classical style. The real significance of the theater, however, is in its interior design and construction. Following on his wider-known designs, such as the Cinema I-Cinema II complex in New York, Schlanger’s interior design for the Waldo Theatre suggests minimal Art Deco themes that work alongside modern functional principles of acoustics and viewership. Beside these decorative elements, Schlanger devised an ingenious small application of the “envelope” system of construction, where a space is created between an inner and outer building directing hot air down, cold air up, and a complete change of air every few minutes. The materials used also ensure an essentially fireproof building. Adding to the viewer’s experience was a floor configuration which sloped up instead of down toward the screen to alleviate neck strain, varying seat widths and some seats equipped with headphones for hard-of-hearing patrons.

The Threat

The Cooney Family operated the theater until 1957 when they sold the property, after which the building lay vacant for twenty-three years except for an occasional live performance and use as a Masonic meeting hall. In 1980 the theater was purchased by a physician and his wife who began extensive renovations of the building. According to its nomination for the National Register completed in 1986, the interior of the theatre remained unaltered, though the left side annex was partially converted into medical offices. Since 2006 the Waldo has been managed by the nonprofit Waldo Theatre, Inc., though due to lack of funding for programming and general upkeep, it was forced to close its doors once again in the spring of 2014. The building has suffered water damage is in need of a new roof. Moisture infiltration has damaged interior walls. These issues must be addressed before any other interior renovations or programming decisions can move forward.

The Solution

The past year has brought new leadership to Waldo Theatre, Inc., breathing new life and energy into the quest to reopen this community landmark. A $5,000 grant from Maine Community Foundation for capacity building will allow the group to develop a fundraising plan. A new roof is estimated to cost at least $35,000, but a fundraising goal of $100,000 has been set in order to ensure other immediate rehabilitation costs can be covered. Before it can reopen to the public, additional needs include digital upgrades to the projection system and the development of a sustainable business plan. Through strong leadership and the tremendous dedication of board members, Waldo Theatre, Inc. has accomplished a great deal but needs continued community and financial support in order to ensure the reactivation and preservation of this cornerstone of culture and entertainment for Midcoast Maine.

Mary E. Taylor Building, c. 1925

The Story
The 28,200 square foot middle school on Knowlton Street was designed in 1925 by the well-respected Augusta architecture firm of Bunker and Savage and falls under the jurisdiction of the Camden-Rockport School Administrative District 28. It was renamed after Mary E. Taylor in 1957, who served as the school’s principal from 1916-1953. Many local residents attended school in this original Mary E. Taylor (MET) building, which holds significant importance with the community. The building is in relatively good condition with only minor repairs needed. The major needs for the building include ADA access improvements and updates to codes. Since 1957, the MET building has continually expanded and now contains 122,000 square feet. The original building has been nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Threat
In 2015, Camden and Rockport voted down a $28 million bond to both construct a new middle school and spend $3 million to rehabilitate the MET building. In June 2017 voters again went to the polls, but the bond had been lowered to $25.2 million and included specific language regarding the demolition of the existing historic school. Public concern about the demolition was eased by assurances from Maria Libby, Superintendent, that despite what the bond stated, rehabilitation of the MET building was still on the table. This time, the bond passed.
The current design plans for the new school do not include rehabilitation of the MET building; in its place plans call for an activity field. While the school board has stated they are willing to consider viable reuse proposals for the building, they have stipulated that if a private developer rehabilitates the building, they are interested in half of the existing space being used for their offices. Additionally, legal counsel has advised the School Administrative District that they cannot commit to a lease longer than 4 years as a tenant, and 10 years if they act as a landlord. The conditions they have set are such that private development will be extremely cost-prohibitive.                                                                                                                                  
A preliminary rehabilitation estimate for the building is $3.4 million for the stand-alone use as the School Administrative District offices. The SAD has been talking about the need for new administrative office space for more than a decade, but the school board has now voiced concern regarding the types of people who may be visiting the offices and whether or not this would be a security issue on an active school campus. While controlling access to school property is of paramount importance, throughout Maine there are scores of existing private housing units and other buildings that abut schools and practice fields. The configuration of the MET building on the campus allows for reuse of the building with minimal disruption to the school.

The Solution
The Mary E. Taylor School is in good physical condition and demolition costs are expected to run more than $200,000. In addition, the social, environmental and economic opportunity costs of reusing rubble from the building for on-site fill contradict the goal of working together to ensure this historic landmark remains both a functional tribute to quality education, and the encouragement of community sustainability and lasting civic values. This well-built building has had an excellent history of low maintenance costs. Demolition provides a disservice to the concept of re-use and does not set a positive example concerning the SADs vision to ensure sure students are, “working cooperatively and collaboratively.”
In Maine, 14 historic schools have been adapted into housing units since 2008 utilizing the state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. In addition, there are dozens of school reuse examples from other states, including:
- Sonora, CA: historic school building is now the school administrative offices, local arts council and a local radio station
- Knoxville, TN: senior housing
- Woodstock, GA: satellite technical college campus and technology hub for business startups and students in the former gymnasium
- Thomasville, GA: center for the arts
- Kansas City, MO: multi-use recreation center; assisted living center; adult day care center; Boys & Girls Club
The School Board should heed the calls of the community to pro-actively evaluate the reuse potential of the building, including a broad range of adaptive use solutions. Innumerable communities have buildings and houses that border on school campuses, and the majority have not erected barriers to community members visiting sports practices or other extra-curricular activities. While located on the edge of an active campus, there are numerous options for reuse for the Mary E. Taylor School that will not interfere with or pose safety issues to school campus users. The community has too much to lose historically, socially and economically if this well-built neighborhood anchor is allowed to be demolished.

Downtown Wiscasset

The Story

Everyone in Maine, including Maine Preservation, recognizes the need to seriously address the traffic backup every summer in Wiscasset. For anyone passing over the Davey Bridge to Edgecomb, congestion and delays are common during the summer months and sometimes beyond. The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) has proposed various options for traffic improvements over the past several decades. In March 2016 the most recent plan for a bypass of downtown was shelved and three new design concepts were introduced. DOT's preferred choice, Option 2, adds two sets of traffic lights and eliminates all on-street storefront parking along Route 1 throughout downtown between Middle and Water Streets. Historic sidewalks would be eliminated and replaced with new widened walkways, diagonal storefront parking would disappear and visitors and shoppers would be directed to a block away on Water Street, where MDOT proposes to turn an occupied property into a parking lot.

The Threat

While the initial plan was approved, both the citizens and the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen, residents voted down Option 2 and the selectmen has also disapproved of the plan, but MDOT has stated they plan to “stay the course” regardless. A lawsuit has been filed against MDOT by local business owners citing reversal of initial promises and subsequent backtracking on MDOT's obligation to consider the interests of the town. Among the most concerning items to note:

- In Public meetings and communications in spring 2016 MDOT stated the project would require no taking of private property and that 80% of anticipated project costs would be covered with federal dollars. Now MDOT states they will not be using federal funds, avoiding federally mandated environmental and historic review processes. Plus, additional funds have been spent condemning and acquiring a building. Consequently, MDOT will increase costs to residents and are unnecessarily using all Maine taxpayer dollars. 

- While MDOT said 20 additional parking spaces would be created along Creamery Wharf, now the historic Hagget’s garage building, housing a thriving office, will be demolished to make way for parking.

- The maintenance of many design elements of the project, such as the additional traffic lights, expanded sidewalks and parking lots, will likely be costs assumed by the town in the future, raising the question of whether or not local tax increases will be necessary.

The proposal to remove all parking along Route 1 on Main Street will have a devastating impact on the viability of businesses in this vibrant commercial district. Maine DOT appears to be alone in believing that parking causes the traffic problem in Wiscasset. Yet, numerous studies in communities across the nation have proven that parking not located directly within downtown areas has a major negative impact on businesses. In fact, MDOT’s own architectural survey report of downtown Wiscasset maintains that on-street parking is an integral part of the Village’s historic setting. In communities the size of Wiscasset, each downtown parking space is worth approximately $25,000 a year in local sales dollars. Locating these spaces off Main Street is not equal to providing shoppers with visible and accessible parking adjacent to businesses.

The current option proposes the demolition of the former Coastal Enterprises, Inc. headquarters on Water Street, Hagget’s garage. This 1918 building now houses the Midcoast Conservancy with 9 employees. The Conservancy had made entered into an option to purchase the building from CEI, but Maine DOT made the “urgent” decision to exercise eminent domain, taking the building and directing the Conservancy to relocate. They would have to move outside Wiscasset, as comparable space is not available. Not only does the building house its headquarters, it is providing the community with an art gallery, meeting space and acts as the hub for the Conservancy’s program that provides skiing equipment for children. The loss of this anchor and the district’s loss of employees and building users who frequently shop and eat downtown for a small parking lot are short-sighted and will have a negative and long lasting economic impact. 

The Solution

Traffic through Wiscasset, especially in July and August, is an issue that has been perplexing Midcoast Maine for years. However, prior to spending $5 million of Maine taxpayer money on an unproven “solution” DOT should test their plans. The installation of temporary traffic lights and separately testing temporarily blocking off of parking spaces is an easy and affordable step in discerning the true viability and economic impact of this plan. In 1997 an MDOT study projecting traffic through 2015 found that there would be zero percent reduction in delays from changes made to downtown. Now, MDOT is claiming its current project will reduce traffic delays by over 50%. It is irresponsible and unwise to spend so much time and Maine taxpayer’s valuable money on a project with no assured positive outcome, especially if it is against the will of the community and comes at the cost of locally owned businesses and the vibrancy of one of the state’s oldest and most revered historic communities.