Bath council OKs armory renovation bond, Skatepark move; 'Smart' meter moratorium continues, fireworks ban advances

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BATH — The City Council on Wednesday approved borrowing funds for renovation of the former National Guard Armory, endorsed a fireworks ban and continued a moratorium on wireless “smart” electric meters.

In a 3 1/2-hour meeting that also saw the council support the armory becoming the home of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, councilors unanimously approved borrowing $308,000 for a basic renovation of the Old Brunswick Road building that the city purchased last year for $175,000.

The Skatepark, which has operated in the soon-to-be-demolished former YMCA on Summer Street, also plans to share the armory with the the Box 19 Club, which would like to house antique fire trucks.

A last-minute addition to the agenda, which the City Council approved 5-4, established a city-owned corporation to operate the armory. The Parks and Recreation Department would continue to run the Skatepark program.

Councilors Steve Brackett, Meadow Rue Merrill, Kyle Rogers, Ruthe Pagurko and Chairman David Sinclair voted in favor of the corporation, while Vice Chairman Sean Paulhus and Councilors Bernard Wyman, Mari Eosco and Andrew Winglass were opposed.

Youth who regularly used the now-closed Skatepark crowded the Council Chambers and lined up to speak about the organization’s virtues.

Zachary Pilgrim said he served on the original committee to establish the Skatepark more than a decade ago, and has been a longtime user of the facility.

“I think the real value to the community is that every kid that’s in there, you don’t have to be a skateboarder, you don’t have to ride a BMX bike, you can go in there and hang out, and it’s free,” Pilgrim said. “It’s just a safe place that anyone can go into, it’s a neutral environment, and I think one thing it provides, that you don’t get a lot of nowadays, is human interaction. You actually get to talk to your friends; you’re not typing online.”

The council previously 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 was determined.

With interest included over the life a 10-year loan, the estimated cost of the $308,000 bond is between $35,000 and $40,000 a year. Parks and Recreation Director Steve Balboni has 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 has also expressed confidence in the board’s ability to replace the subsidy through fundraising.

Balboni has 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.

Smart meters, fireworks ban

The council voted 5-4 to extend by six months a moratorium on the installation of smart meters. It will vote a second and final time in a special meeting Dec. 19, the day the moratorium expires.

The council voted 5-3 on June 1 for a 180-day moratorium on the installation of smart meters by Central Maine Power Co. without prior approval of property owners. Residents who want the devices could still have them installed.

CMP had threatened to sue if the city did not reverse the temporary ban, but as of this week the company has not taken legal action, City Manager Bill Giroux said Wednesday. He said installation of smart meters has been continuing for property owners who want the devices.

On Wednesday, Sinclair, Brackett, Merrill, Rogers and Pagurko voted to continue the moratorium, with Paulhus, Wyman, Eosco and Winglass opposed.

Eosco said the majority of people with whom she has spoken favor ending the moratorium.

The city fireworks ordinance, which must receive final passage next month, would prohibit the use and sale of consumer fireworks.

Consumer fireworks do not include missile-type rockets, helicopters and aerial spinners, or sky and bottle rockets. The ban would not apply to someone who has been issued a fireworks display permit by the city or state.

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.