Bath council: Demolish old YMCA, store Skatepark at armory

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BATH — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved total demolition of the old YMCA on Summer Street.

The council also authorized the Parks and Recreation Department to move the existing assets of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark – which currently operates at the old Y – to the former National Guard Armory for storage until the future use of that Old Brunswick Road building has been determined.

Additionally, the council appropriated $5,000 from its contingency account to fund preliminary studies of improvements, renovations and repairs at the armory. Last year, the council approved borrowing up to $175,000 to purchase the building.

Total demolition of the Y, which was replaced when the Bath Area Family YMCA opened on Centre Street in 2001, was one of three options presented to councilors by Stephen Blatt Architects. It could cost more than $410,000.

A second option, which could cost nearly $468,000, would first demolish the pool, boiler and fitness areas, while the gym and lobby would come down later.

In the least expensive option, estimated to cost nearly $274,000, the pool, boiler and fitness sections of the facility would be torn down, while the gym and lobby would still be used for the Skatepark. Blatt considered this option difficult because it would not provide space for staging a demolition crane, recycling containers and temporary storage of material.

Parks and Recreation Director Steve Balboni, whose department maintains the old Y, told the council Wednesday that the Skatepark board supported complete demolition of the building, if the council would support the Skatepark moving into the armory.

“We have an opportunity here,” Balboni said. “We also understand that it means sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to take a step forward. We’re willing to take that risk.”

He has said it is important, in the process of the Skatepark board pursuing funding for the move, for the city to support the armory’s use as the Skatepark’s new home.

Councilor David Sinclair noted that the council was not deciding what would happen with the armory, outside of the $5,000 study.

“It’s entirely possible that it will be the public, and not the council,” he said, that will make that determination.”

Sinclair noted that “we all know what we plan on doing in (the) future, which is give the Skatepark board time to figure out what they could do in terms of financing for improvements for (the armory), and then have us all come back together, and talk it over.”

Jackie Dwinal of Washington Street urged sending the decision to Bath voters.

“This is huge,” she said. “You’re talking about a $175,000 building that we’re on the hook for, you’re talking about another $5,000 (for the study), you’re talking about … $40,000 that we give to the Skatepark as a subsidy, and then you’re talking about complete renovation of (the armory).

“That’s a lot of money to ask the taxpayers to pay, for a certain number of kids. We have other kids in town; these aren’t the only kids we have,” she said. “We have plenty of other kids that are involved in organized activities.”

Claire Berkowitz, chairwoman of the Skatepark board, told the council that “we’re the ones who brought (the armory) to your attention to be purchased, and worked with (state Sen.) Seth Goodall to purchase it. So while it doesn’t say in the legislation that was finally passed, that agreed upon the price, I would say that there was good faith in there that we were going to be using that building. And maybe that’s our board’s naivete, that we thought that was what was going to be happening.”

She said Bath needs a youth-focused community center inclusive of all people, and that if the Skatepark went into the armory, it would welcome other community uses of that space.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.