Brunswick, Bowdoin College near deal for swapping property

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BRUNSWICK — The town and Bowdoin College are edging closer to swapping ownership of the Longfellow School and the McLellan building on Noble and Union Streets.

The two buildings were among several discussed by the Town Council on Monday night. No votes were taken, but councilors determined the direction they want to go.

The town and the college have discussed exchanging the soon-to-be-closed Longfellow School for the college-owned McLellan building since the end of 2008.

Caty Longley, Bowdoin’s treasurer and senior vice president for finance and administration, said the town approached the college first, and Bowdoin was interested. Although she didn’t know how the building would ultimately be used, she said “it’s a key property adjacent to the college.”

Brunswick had been eyeing McLellan for a variety of uses, most recently as a municipal office. Currently the town occupies 28 Federal St., a 50-year old building that many say is too small. The town rents the Maine Street Station council chambers from Bowdoin, but the lease expires in 2014. After that, the rent would increase nearly five-fold.

Last December the college offered the town two options for the swap.

In the first option, Bowdoin would purchase the Longfellow School, which has been appraised at $990,000, for $2 million. Half of that would be paid up front, and the other half paid over a period of four years. The town would acquire the McLellan building, which was appraised at $4.62 million.

The other option is for the town and the college to simply swap properties without exchanging money.

Either way, the town would be responsible for cleaning up any hazardous waste in the Longfellow School, rezoning the area to “college use 2,” which allows administrative space and offices, and making safety improvements along College Street. That would include adding raised crosswalks and redoing the intersections at Route 123 and Maine Street.

Regardless of which option the town council selects, the town would not move into McLellan until 2014, and it would only occupy the first two floors. Bowdoin would continue to use the third floor of the building until 2025, at no cost to the college.

When asked why the college would consider paying double the appraised value of the school, Longley said she thought it was a fair offer.

“It’s a business decision, it’s valuable property,” she said.

Longley said there is value in being able to stay on the third floor of McLellan for free, and having the town pay for environmental work at Longfellow and repairs on College Street.

The next step for the town is to find out the extent of contamination in the Longfellow School, and have the Planning Board make the requested zoning change. Once both are completed, the council will be able to vote on which option it prefers, something Brown said should happen by early summer.

Police station

Last month, the Police Station Subcommittee concluded that the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant Streets is the best site for the department, a recommendation the council approved in late March.

Now the town is negotiating a purchase price and figuring out how to pay for the land and the building.

Council Chairwoman Joanne King proposed asking the Brunswick Development Corp. to pay for some part of the project, an idea that was well received by councilors.

The BDC has traditionally spent its money on private economic development projects like Harbor Technologies, which operates out of the Brunswick Business Park. But King said she believes that “it’s time to spend the money on Brunswick,” especially given the challenges of financing a police station at this time.

King proposed asking BDC to cover the cost of buying the police station site and demolishing the existing structures. The town would issue bonds to pay for the construction of the police station, and widening of Stanwood Street.

BNAS field house

The town is considering acquiring the 18-acre Brunswick Naval Air Station field house property to replace its in-town recreation facilities. The only cost associated with acquiring the property is a $9,000 contribution to a homeless assistance fund that is required by the U.S. Navy.

But the cost to operate the facility is unknown, something that annoyed some councilors. The Navy was unable to supply that information because it paid one electricity and heating bill for the entire base and didn’t know about the costs of operating individual buildings. Brown said the town had commissioned a study to find out.

If the town did acquire the Navy field house, Brown suggested the recreation building downtown would be closed.

But this assertion drew some critical comments from residents concerned about moving recreation facilities out of downtown, where people will have to drive to access them.

“Don’t take away from the center of town in favor of putting everything on the edges,” said Louise Rosen.

Peter Mason wondered why the town was willing to pay more to keep a police station in town, but would move recreation facilities out of town because it may be cheaper.

Other facilities

On other facilities, the council:

• Endorsed making the former Times Record building into a combined transportation center for Brunswick and School Administrative District 75, and expects them to return to the council next year with a plan for the facility.

• Moved to rescind its request for the former BNAS shooting range, due to restrictions on what the town can do with the property after it is acquired.

• Will explore options for building a parking deck behind the McLellan building, or elswhere near Maine Street Station.

• Moved to create a central fire station subcommittee to study whether to replace or repair the fire station downtown. The committee will also consider whether the current site is still the best available location.

• Moved to have the Curtis Memorial Library staff put together a schedule of anticipated needs that could be included into the town’s capital improvement program.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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