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Shoreham eyes $310k in academy insurance

SHOREHAM — A group of Shoreham residents is hoping to plant the seeds for a new building that would rise from the ashes of the former Newton Academy site off School Street.
Newton Academy, which had been the state’s oldest standing secondary school building, burned on April 7 after being struck by lightning. A citizens’ group had been raising funds to restore the 1810 academy building for use as a community center and to potentially host Shoreham’s municipal offices.
But that restoration effort came to a screeching halt with the fire, which gutted the town-owned structure and drove out two tenants — the Shorewell Clinic and Shoreham Preschool.
The Shorewell Clinic reopened on Monday, April 19, in the former Dewitt-Blake Insurance headquarters at 115 Main St. The Newton Academy Preschool is temporarily relocating in the lower level of the Congregational Church of Shoreham, officials confirmed last Thursday.
While those businesses nestle into new quarters, Shoreham leaders and Newton Academy boosters have been discussing how the community might choose to reuse the academy site.
The town will have some resources at its disposal.
Shoreham selectboard Chairman Paul Saenger said the town is in line to receive $310,000 in insurance money for the loss of Newton Academy. The insurance policy will also cover the costs of the site cleanup, he said.
Sue MacIntire, a member of the Newton Academy Restoration Corporation, said she hopes the $310,000 insurance settlement can serve as seed money for a new building. That sum, MacIntire said, could be supplemented by a combined total of $164,400 in Newton Academy renovation grants the corporation has landed in recent months. The granting authorities would have to give their consent for the funds to be used for a new project.
MacIntire noted the town has already salted away more than $100,000 for a new town clerk’s office. If combined, the insurance, grants and town funds would add up to more than $550,000 the community could potentially pump into a new community center/town office building on the Newton Academy site, officials said.
“We are going to try to come up with a plan and go to (the townspeople),” MacIntire said on Thursday morning, following a gathering with town officials on what should be done in the aftermath of the Newton Academy fire.
Academy boosters have made no secret of their wishes. The Web site www.newtonacademy.org features a photo of the April 7 fire and a plea for contributions to rebuild.
“We are hoping to be able to get the funds to rebuild it as there is a big empty spot on our common and we need a new town clerk’s office and community center,” reads the Web site message. “We need your help! Our goal is to raise as much money as possible through individual contributions.”
A new Facebook page called “Rebuild Newton Academy” currently has 46 “friends.”
Saenger said he looks forward to having a dialogue with citizens during the coming months to see what they’d like to do with the site.
“We sort of have a blank pallet to start from,” Saenger said. “We will listen, take some time, and see where we end up.”
Community members have already been coming to the rescue of the businesses displaced by the fire.
Thursday saw Dr. Allan Curtiss and his staff installing the Shorewell Clinic into the Dewitt-Blake building. Curtiss explained the building is owned by a patient who agreed to rent the large home to the clinic, which will occupy the entire first floor. That amounts to more square footage than the Shorewell Clinic had in Newton Academy, noted Judy Sperry, a part-time RN at the office. Many area folks and health care organizations have donated equipment and furnishings for the new space.
“The townsfolk from Shoreham, Cornwall, Bridport and Orwell have been extremely generous,” Curtiss said. “We have almost not had to buy anything.”
Patients can still reach the clinic at 897-2673.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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