FALMOUTH, Maine -- An old farmhouse where students at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf were abused will be demolished, putting to rest painful memories for many former students.
The house on the school's Mackworth Island campus is the former residence of Robert E. Kelly, the school's principal from 1965 to 1982. Kelly, along with a former superintendent and teacher, are accused of physically and sexually abusing students for years, often in or near his home.
The house has been empty for years, and the school had been exploring other uses for the structure, such as a day-care center. But the house's foundation is rotten and would require an estimated $150,000 to repair.
The Baxter school board voted last Thursday to have the house demolished, providing a cost-effective solution. It will probably be burned down, which would also provide firefighter training.
Kelly is accused of calling students down to his house day and night, said Sara Treat, a therapist who works with abuse survivors. She said demolishing the house will help close an ugly chapter in the school's past and shift the focus to current accomplishments.
"The farmhouse holds haunting memories," she said. "Watching that farmhouse burn would be a lovely thing."
Larry Taub, Baxter's current superintendent, said the school has offered to let the Falmouth Fire Department burn down the wood-frame house as a training exercise.
But before that happens, the school has invited abuse survivors, who have formed a group called A Safer Place, to participate in a closure ceremony. Details are still being worked out, but Treat said survivors may write letters or draw pictures to cast in the flames.
One board member, Roxanne Baker, abstained when the board voted to demolish the building. Baker, a former student at the school in the 1970s, said she didn't want to take sides because the deaf community is somewhat divided about the issue.
She said some school alumni believe the house could have other uses, such as a dormitory for high school students, an alumni office, or a community center. Others, she said, want "to see the farmhouse burned down to the ground as part of their closure."
In 2001, state lawmakers set aside $6 million for the Baxter Compensation Authority, a state panel that began last year to hear cases and grant monetary awards to those who were abused. So far, 240 former students have filed claims, and more are expected.
However, the authority has never been fully funded and has run out of money with only one-third of the cases heard. Survivors intend to head to Augusta next month to demand more funding, Treat said.