December 2, 2010

Crisis & Counseling buys newspaper building

Newspaper plans to remain in Augusta

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The Kennebec Journal building at 274 Western Ave. is to be the new home of Crisis & Counseling, a mental-health and substance-abuse counseling agency that's been seeking to move for about a year.

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The Kennebec Journal building at 274 Western Ave. is to be the new home of Crisis & Counseling, a mental health and substance abuse counseling agency. The paper has been at that location since 1961.

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Richard Connor, president and chief executive officer of MaineToday Media, the newspaper's parent company, said the company is seeking new locations in Augusta for the Kennebec Journal.

The transaction calls for the newspaper to vacate the building no later than March 17, 2011.

Anthony Ronzio, editor and publisher of the Kennebec Journal, said the newspaper's goal is to be out by the beginning of March.

"We'll hopefully find something as close to this building as I can make it," Ronzio told employees Tuesday in announcing the sale.

A sale price was not disclosed. City records show the Kennebec Journal property was most recently assessed at $3.3 million; $1.4 million for its its 5.28-acre parcel and $1.8 million for the 53,000-square-foot building.

Chris Paszyc, a broker with CBRE/Boulos Co., represented Crisis & Counseling in its search.

"We looked at 10 properties," Paszyc said. "They had a size requirement of 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, and that limited the number of buildings suitable in the Augusta area."

Among the possible sites Crisis & Counseling officials toured were the city-owned flatiron building on Cony Circle, the former Hannaford Bros. supermarket on Willow Street and the Gannett Building on Water Street.

Lynn Duby, Crisis & Counseling's chief executive officer, said the agency paid less than the assessed value for Kennebec Journal property.

"The office space currently available should be enough to meet our current needs," Duby said. "We're looking at future possibilities for the back of the building."

Judi Watters, director of development and public relations at Crisis & Counseling, said Tuesday the agency's move to Western Avenue would allow it to possibly bring in other nonprofit agencies.

The Winthrop Street site is the largest of Crisis & Counseling's facilities, housing 95 of its 170 employees. It has seven other locations in Kennebec, Somerset and Lincoln counties; however, only one other is an office. The others are residential facilities or jail-based programs.

Crisis & Counseling's relocation will free its current property on Winthrop Street to allow for an expansion of Kennebec County courts.

Duby said the court's need prompted the agency's move. The agency and the courts have essentially agreed on a price for the Winthrop Street property, she said.

"We haven't signed a purchase-and-sale agreement (on the Winthrop Street property), but there's a draft agreement going back and forth," Duby said. "The price potentially on the property and entire deal depends on two bond issues."

Negotiations between the court system and Crisis & Counseling are continuing, according to Mary Ann Lynch, director of court information for the Maine Judicial Branch.

Last year, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley outlined plans for a new court building at Crisis & Counseling's current offices. She envisioned a new court building housing district and superior courts in Augusta, accessed by a single public entrance, staffed by a security team and entirely handicapped-accessible.

The price for the new building was just over $55 million.

"We are delighted that Crisis & Counseling has found a new home," Lynch said. "That is a critical step in what has been a very long process."

Lynch said the court cannot issue bonds to build a new courthouse until it owns the property. "The Legislature looked at this two years ago and found (the new courthouse) was a top priority," Lynch said.

Ronzio said the newspaper is moving to smaller quarters because press operations were consolidated 11 months ago with the MaineToday Media printing plant in South Portland.

As part of the move, some computer functions and a few employees will move to the Morning Sentinel building on Front Street in Waterville.

The Kennebec Journal, the state's oldest newspaper, began as a weekly in Augusta in 1825. The operation moved from Willow Street after building its Western Avenue plant in 1961.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

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