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Brunswick council: Negotiate McLellan-Longfellow swap

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Brunswick council: Negotiate McLellan-Longfellow swap

BRUNSWICK — Bowdoin College and the town are negotiating a deal that would move town offices into a modern, downtown building and give the college a prime property adjacent to the campus.

The Town Council voted 6-3 Monday to authorize Town Manager Gary Brown to hammer out the details of the long-anticipated swap of Longfellow School and Bowdoin's McLellan building on the corner of Union and Noble streets.

Since the plan has been in the works for months, Brown said the deal only needs fine-tuning. He said he expects to be able to report back to the council as soon as Aug. 8.

The college and the town have already agreed generally on an outline for the swap. The buildings would be exchanged at no cost, although the town would be responsible for mitigating any hazardous waste found at Longfellow and making traffic safety improvements to the intersections at both ends of College Street.

In a memo to the council, Brown estimated that the cost to the town of the latter two items plus the cost of refitting McLellan could be $450,000.

While the college would acquire Longfellow right away, possibly as soon as this October, the town would not be able to move into McLellan until January 2014. Bowdoin would retain use of the third floor of McLellan for at least another five years after that.

The January 2014 move-in date is important, Brown said in an interview, because the cost of renting the council chambers at Brunswick Station is set to spike in September 2014.

At that time, Bowdoin will no longer sublet the chambers to the town for the low price of $6 per square foot. Instead, JHR Development would be the lessor, and would charge $25 per square foot, increasing the annual cost from $15,200 to $63,500, according to a memo provided to the council.

For council Chairwoman Joanne King, the late move-in date is a good thing.

"There's three years for us to figure out what to do with 28 Federal Street," which town staff would vacate once they moved into McLellan, King said.

Councilor Margo Knight said downtown business owners are excited about the swap because it would open up more parking spots near Maine Street. Town employees' vehicles now occupy many of the spaces in the lot between Bank and Center streets.

Knight said she backs the swap because "Bowdoin gets what it wants and Brunswick gets what it needs, which is a building where we all fit. It really is a good deal."

But other councilors were less supportive.

Councilor Benet Pols questioned the need for a new town office, and said the existing Town Hall could fit all town staff after the Police Department moves out of the basement and into a new police station.

He also said that town staff should be wary of going forward with a swap that, in his view, only benefits themselves.

"I don't really think that the average citizen that goes to pay his taxes will be pleased to have a nice lobby to walk into rather than the dingy 1962 lobby," he said.

Pols encouraged councilors to instead pursue selling Longfellow to Bowdoin for $2 million, half of which would be paid over a four-year period.

Councilors Debbie Atwood and John Perreault agreed with Pols, arguing that the town can't afford not to sell the school.

But ultimately, more councilors were in favor of the swap. The final, necessary step is approval of the rezoning of the Longfellow property.

The proposed College Use 7 zone has been opposed by some Longfellow Avenue residents because it would allow a non-student housing density of 10 units per acre and a recreational facility, which they say would disrupt the character of the neighborhood.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Planning Board indicated to the council that it couldn't reach consensus on the density or the recreational facility as an allowed use. But otherwise, there was overall support among board members for the rezoning of the property.

That means the council has to decide what to do about those two items before the swap is finalized.

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