Cape Elizabeth council weighs senior citizen issues, community services

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council is considering removing Community Services from the School Department, future use of the former Spurwink School, and the role of the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee.

Councilors on Jan. 7 weaved the three topics together, reasoning the issues are related and each affects the others. 

In a Jan. 1 memorandum from Town Manager Mike McGovern to the council, he recommended that Community Services, located at 343 Ocean House Road, be transferred from the School Department to become the municipality’s responsibility.

When the program was created in 1977, it fell under a municipal department. Administration was transferred to the schools in the late 2000s, according to McGovern’s memorandum, because Community Services had taken on school-related responsibilities, such as student transportation and custodial services.

According to its website, “Community Services provides diverse programs and activities for the citizens of Cape Elizabeth,” including enrichment classes, sports, a fitness center and Cape Care preschool.

McGovern said the town’s population is aging, however, and programs offered by Community Services are being utilized more by senior citizens. He said seniors have been asking Community Services to provide them with more resources and activities, and it no longer makes sense for the School Department to handle the program.

“The School Board and the superintendent already have much to focus on with all their responsibilities,” McGovern said. “Dealing with issues involving enhancing programs for senior citizens, determining pool schedules and running non-school youth soccer programs is better suited to municipal responsibility.”

McGovern suggested that Community Services should become a municipal department again effective July 1, and said Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau agrees.

“(Nadeau) concurs that it is time to move Community Services from the School Department to become a separate municipal department reporting to the town manager,” McGovern said.

Councilors generally agreed, saying that the Community Services building is a good central location for seniors to gather.

They also discussed the idea of creating a senior citizen center at the former Spurwink School, which has been serving as the temporary home of the Thomas Memorial Library while the library is being renovated. The 166-year-old building will be unoccupied at the beginning of February when the library reopens.

But councilors decided the Spurwink School is too isolated to serve as a senior center, and instead discussed a proposal to reuse the school from the School Department.

The School Department is proposing “C.A.P.E. HUB” – a creative learning center for school and community collaborations. At the Jan. 7 meeting, Councilor Kathy Ray said she was “baffled” by the proposal; McGovern said he was confused, too.

McGovern said the proposal included no business plan, only ideas and concepts. He recommended, and said Nadeau agreed, that a four-person committee that includes two Town Councilors and two School Board members should be created to flesh out the proposal. 

Councilors Caitlin Jordan and Sara Lennon were chosen for the committee. 

The Town Council also discussed recommendations made by the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, including amending the Town Charter so the panel can become a standing committee. In his memorandum, McGovern said most committees aren’t created by charter, and doing so would limit the committee’s ability to be modified in the future.

McGovern recommended that the committee merge with the Community Services Advisory Commission, so the commission could also work on issues related to senior citizens. McGovern also wants to create a panel of senior citizens who would meet monthly with the Community Services director to discuss their priorities and whether they’re being met.

“This would provide a strong voice for seniors in the community,” Councilor Jessica Sullivan said.

Final decisions will be made at Town Council meetings in the coming months.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.