The sale of Harpswell Coastal Academy’s campus has been completed for an undisclosed sum. The buyer is a local resident, Scott J. Merryman, who has yet to come forward with his future plans for the site. (Stefan Keenan photo)
After weeks of anticipation, the sale of Harpswell Coastal Academy’s campus has been completed and the buyer’s name revealed. Still, the buyer said he hasn’t yet chosen what to do with the site, leaving more questions than answers about the property’s future.
Public records show a limited liability company formed by local resident Scott J. Merryman completed its purchase of the now-closed charter school’s campus at 9 Ash Point Road in Harpswell on July 5. The purchase price has not been disclosed.
Merryman, a lobsterman who lives in Harpswell, said he purchased the site because he thought it was a good opportunity and wanted to ensure it continues to serve a community purpose.
“We haven’t decided what to do with it yet,” Merryman said.
The closing caps off a monthslong effort to find a new owner and purpose for the property.
An auction held May 10 for the campus ended in uncertainty, with the leading bidder offering to donate his bid to Harpswell Heritage Land Trust if it agreed to raise additional funds to meet the seller’s minimum price for the property. The auction was conducted in the academy’s gymnasium, with more than 30 bidders and onlookers in attendance.
The highest bidder was entrepreneur and philanthropist Arthur “Art” Girard, head of family-owned Delta Realty LLC, of Portland, who signed an agreement to pay $330,000 for the property and auction fees, along with a commitment to donate the funds for land preservation. Girard said he was told the academy was looking for no less than $385,000 — known in auction lingo as the reserve price.
A group of neighboring residents led by Harpswell business owner Kara Douglas acted quickly to raise the remaining funds, garnering enough pledges in under 24 hours to close the funding gap, according to Douglas.
The residents’ group had been hopeful that the Land Trust would agree to accept their donations and take ownership of the campus. But the trust declined, saying the May 17 decision deadline did not afford it enough time to responsibly research the potential legal and financial risks posed by accepting the property.
A week later, HCA Board of Directors Chair Cynthia Shelmerdine said a private buyer had come forward to purchase the site. At the time, Shelmerdine said she was prohibited by contract from disclosing the buyer’s identity, saying only that the buyer “is a local person.”
Auctioneer Stefan “Stef” Keenan, of Portland-based Keenan Auction Co. Inc., confirmed at the time that a private individual who had been unaware of the May 10 auction had since agreed to purchase the site for an undisclosed sum.
On July 5, Shelmerdine said she was pleased about the sale to Merryman.
“There’s not much I can say at this point beyond that we are glad to have been able to sell the property to a member of the community,” she said.
Douglas, who owns Fishmoon Yoga directly across from the campus, said that without knowing Merryman’s plans for the site, it’s impossible to predict how the change of ownership might impact the neighborhood.
“My primary concern in the transfer of property is stewardship of groundwater, which we’ve experienced some scarcity of in dry years,” she said. “I’m sure there are lots of uses for it that wouldn’t have a negative impact on the water table. As a neighbor and small-business owner, I look forward to meeting (Merryman) and hearing more about his vision for the building and the land.”
The nearly 8-acre property features a baseball diamond and parking for more than 20 vehicles, as well as about 4.5 acres of woods. The school building has seven classrooms, seven offices and seven bathrooms, as well as a gymnasium, kitchen, cafeteria and library.
An online auction to sell the academy’s outbuildings, vehicles and equipment concluded July 10. Merryman was allowed to take possession of the property on July 12.
Merryman said all the online auction items were sold, including the playground equipment.
Harpswell Coastal Academy, a public charter school for grades five through 12, shut down permanently at the end of the school year after a decade in operation. The Maine Charter School Commission did not renew its charter, citing a variety of concerns.
The town of Harpswell sold the campus to the nonprofit Harpswell Coastal Academy Inc. for $150,000 in 2015. In early 2023, the academy offered to sell the property back to the town.
Town officials balked at the potential sale price of $800,000, although Shelmerdine said that figure was merely a price cap based on preliminary estimates. Academy officials have said the sale price would need to cover the school’s financial obligations, including debts and repayment of federal grants.
The Harpswell Select Board in March put the matter to voters, who overwhelmingly rejected the purchase.
Connie Sage Conner contributed to this report.
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