Opportunity Farm’s new owner plans residence facility

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NEW GLOUCESTER — The non-profit that has purchased the former Opportunity Farm plans to turn it into a residential facility for young people ages 10-21 with severe disabilities, according to its executive director.

The Morrison Center bought the 125-acre campus for $1.35 million from Wayfinder Schools, Executive Director Mark Ryder said.

“Maine has a critical shortage of residential services for children with complex developmental needs, and Morrison’s vision for their new property includes establishing a nationally recognized educational and treatment facility at the New Gloucester campus,” Ryder said in press release announcing the sale last week.

The Morrison Center, based in Scarborough and Wells, supports people with disabilities. It previously purchased roughly 20 acres from Wayfinder Schools and opened two adult residential homes on Short Bennett Road this spring.

Ryder said this week that people have been “very welcoming” in New Gloucester, and he called the recently purchased property a “wonderful location.”

Once named the Opportunity Farm for Boys, the campus perched on Gloucester Hill has a long history of helping disadvantaged youth. Ryder sees a “tremendous legacy at that campus” and said he hopes to keep it alive with Morrison’s planned center. He expects the facility will be called “Morrison’s Opportunity Farm” in reference to the property’s history.

Ryder envisions adding new buildings, including “very unique cottages” to respond to the unique challenges of residents with “significant, complex disabilities,” including traumatic brain injuries and behavioral disorders such as autism.

Current facilities at the property are “old and in tough shape,” he said, and he expects to launch a capital fundraising campaign within three months to raise money for a project that could take several years.

The Morrison Center plans to have one four-bedroom residence for children open within two months. Ryder would like to see four residential homes on the property totaling 32 beds within five years.

He said there is “certainly room for future expansion” on the campus.

For now, existing dormitories will be used by several students from the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf in Falmouth, he said.

Wayfinder will continue to run its southern Maine Passages Program, which offers a home-based high school degree, from the New Gloucester location and will retain its campus in Camden and outreach office in Machias. Ryder said  Wayfinder will rent office space at the New Gloucester campus but will not be directly administering any services there.

Board Vice Chairwoman Brenda Chandler said in last week’s press release that Wayfinder is “pleased that Morrison Center will shepherd the Opportunity Farm campus into the future, staying true its original intent of serving Maine youth in need.”

Wayfinder Schools was created in 2011 when it merged two long-standing organizations: the Community School in Camden and Opportunity Farm in New Gloucester.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The Morrison Center has purchased the 125-acre Opportunity Farm campus in New Gloucester from Wayfinder Schools.

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