2. December 2012 17:11
Follow the renovation and preservation of the Hartland Avenue School in Pittsfield, Maine.
4. July 2012 19:57
With the signing of the papers complete and keys in hand we made our first visit to the school as owners. Insert key, turn, pull handle and... bang, door catches on decking. Can't open any more than a crack. I've lost weight, but not that much. We'd had rain recently and it appeared as though the old wood had swollen enough to bar the door.
So, it's finally ours and we can't even get in. Even though the building has four other entries, they are either bulkheads or the keys had been lost years ago. We decide we're going to need tools, rush on home, grab hammer and pry bar then rush back to the school. The deck boards need to be removed and we start with the row closest to the door. It starts pulling up fairly easily, then snaps and breaks under the pressure. It's partially rotted and has broken into two pieces at it's weak point. That's ok, I move down to the next joist and start prying there. Won't budge. Try another joist. Won't budge. I'm starting to sweat, which is easy for me, I only have to breath hard and I start sweating. After much effort and a few more broken boards we have removed enough for the door to open.
So our first day owning the school and we unexpectedly begin the demolition work. But, at least we're able to enter the building. We returned the next day with a belt sander and sand down the open joists, put the deck boards back and put down caution tape on the loose broken boards.
The work begins.
1. April 2012 08:46
Nothing is ever simple. With thoughts of the sale going smoothly, we engaged a surveyor to stake the property and make sure it matched the Pittsfield town maps. Before the surveyor could start the process, we began digging into the original deeds. Something wasn't right. The school property real estate listing showed the area as 1.35 acres. In converting the old deeds rod and chain measurements we found the lot was not as large as listed. In fact, the original property was 1 acre and the boundary was very nearly next to the building.
We tracked the deed forward including all the adjacent lot deeds so much as possible. Sometimes things get lost over time. Sometimes assumptions are made from generation to generation and become "truths." This was beginning to look not so simple; fortunately Melissa is tenacious when it comes to researching old records. She enjoys geneology and history and can devour paperwork with the patience of a saint. Between online resources for the county of Somerset and visits to the county seat in Skowhegan, she began putting together what had happened over the last 115 years.
She obtained a copy of an old map showing the original plan for the area. The map had a road next to the school property. The road was never developed or used, and over time it was used as part of the school property. Eventually it was assumed the school property was larger than the deed recognized. Even though the original school property deed was very clear and specific, all other properties seemed to be written in relation to the school property and over the years it seems the assumption was the road was non-existent and had been incorporated into the school property.
Since we wanted the property as it was assumed to be (including the "road" area), as it was presented by the school district in the real estate listing, we worked with lawyers to obtain legal deed to the whole property. After analyzing the wording of previous deeds in the neighborhood, some of which were unclear and contradictory, the surveyor concluded that there was a triangular corner of the property which had some question of ownership. It was unclear whether the triangle was owned by the side neighbor or the back neighbor. So, when the lawyer had the neighbors sign an agreement that recognized the traditional, accepted borders of the school property, the triangular area with the title issues was not included with the school property. It leaves us with an odd-shaped property, but we had no choice in the matter and we are pleased with the property overall.
21. February 2012 19:20
While it wasn't our first visit to the school, it was our first opportunity to take some pictures. It was a cold and damp February day. Mr. Gallagher, the superintendent of schools, was kind enough to let us into the school to look around and mark items that would be staying or going.
This was our first chance to really look and see what we had. Some of the ceiling tiles were lifted in the south classroom and we were able to get a quick glance at what was hidden. To our surprise we not only saw the old tin ceilings, which were in great shape, but also an abundance of light. The newer offices had drop ceilings which clipped the old windows about in half. The area above the drop ceiling was actually brighter than the room where we were standing. The hallways and closets hinted at the height of all the ceilings and it was good to see that our expectations were met.
Structurally, everything looked good though most areas including all ceilings in the basement were hidden by plaster. Even though hidden we could not see any sagging of the floor joists above.
A little worrisome was the amount of mold seen on some of the walls. With the building having been closed down for a couple of years this would only get worse if not taken care of soon. Areas of water saturation were obvious and expected given the type of basement. It was very apparent that this wetness and lack of air circulation was contributing to the mold.