Bath council OKs armory renovation bond; skatepark fate uncertain

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BATH — The City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to borrowing $308,000 for a basic renovation of the former National Guard Armory.

The 5-3 decision, opposed by Councilors Steve Brackett, Kyle Rogers and Ruthe Pagurko, will go to a final vote Dec. 7.

The council also tabled an order that would have allowed the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark to move into the Old Brunswick Road building.

Councilors, however, unanimously approved borrowing up to $450,000 to demolish the dilapidated former YMCA on Summer Street, where the skatepark now operates. Demolition is due to start next month.

Ron Norton of Construction Management Consulting Services, the firm asked to come up with the armory renovation cost, focused on what he called a “base-line” scope of work necessary to run the skatepark to arrive at the $308,000 renovation cost.

He told the council last month that the savings came from “doing work only in the areas that are to be used for the skateboard park. The lower level work is only to the level necessary for code compliance and safety. Work beyond this can be designed, priced and completed based on the actual future use of the space.”

Norton also said spending $308,000 would allow the skatepark “to function as efficiently as, and probably more efficiently than, in its current location.”

The council last month authorized the Parks and Recreation Department to move the existing assets of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and skatepark to the Old Brunswick Road armory for storage, until a use for the building has been determined.

Besides being a possible new home for the skatepark, another proposed use for the armory – purchased by the city last year with $175,000 of borrowed funds – is to have it house the local Box 19 Club’s antique fire trucks. Parks and Recreation Director Steve Balboni, whose department maintains the old Y, said he thinks the facility could accommodate both uses.

With interest included over a 10-year loan, the estimated cost of the $308,000 bond is between $35,000 and $40,000 a year. Balboni said the skatepark board is willing to give up its $40,000 annual subsidy from the city so that the cost of the borrowing would not fall on taxpayers. He said he is confident in the board’s ability to make up the funds through fundraising.

Balboni said he expects the skatepark’s revenue and use to increase if it moves to the armory, since that building is closer to Bath Middle School, which many of the skatepark’s young patrons attend.

Claire Berkowitz, chairwoman of the skatepark board, called $308,000 an investment in the future of the community’s children.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to walk away from these kids, and that breaks my heart,” she said.

Brackett said 11 people had contacted him about the issue, all of whom said the bond question for the armory renovation should go to the voters, and not be decided by the council.

He said after the meeting that he does support the skatepark, and that “if I had to vote tomorrow, in the voting booth, I personally would vote to (bond the money).”

But he said he has “heard loud and clear, clearer than I’ve heard in the one year I’ve been on the council, that people want to speak on this matter. That’s why I voted as I did.”

Rogers requested tabling the skatepark’s move to the armory until after the Dec. 7 second vote on the armory bond.

“I just feel that there’s no reason to have this order put in place if we don’t have the funding,” he said.

Councilors James Omo, Sean Paulhus, Mari Eosco and Andrew Winglass opposed the motion to table, while Councilors David Sinclair, Rogers, Brackett and Pagurko favored it. With the council split 4-4, Chairman Bernard Wyman cast the deciding vote in favor of tabling the matter.

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.