Residents asked to contribute vision of town-owned properties
FALMOUTH — An upcoming community-wide event will ask Falmouth residents to share their vision for the future of several town-owned properties.
The Community Facilities Planning Project is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12 at Plummer-Motz School. At the center of the discussion will be the 21-acre, town-owned Lunt and Plummer-Motz Schools property at the corner of Lunt and Middle Roads.
Because of Falmouth's plan for a new elementary school, it's anticipated the schools will be vacated by September 2011.
The town is contemplating its options, including selling the property, reuse or demolition of the existing buildings.
Residents will have the opportunity to publicly weigh ideas that include relocating Town Hall and the Falmouth Memorial Library to the property, either through renovations or new construction. Construction of a multi-generational community center on the school property will also be discussed, as will the future of the Pleasant Hill Fire Station property.
"This is a set of decisions a town makes once every couple of generations," Facilities Committee Chairwoman and Councilor Cathy Breen said. "To have 21 acres become available in the middle of town is an enormous responsibility; we want to do the right thing; we want to have a facilities plan that meets people's parameters."
The nine-member committee recently paired off and visited more than 30 community groups, from the Falmouth Middle School Student Council to the Lions Club, to promote an event that Breen said will incorporate a video, small group discussions and a 60-question keypad poll.
"We've had a lot of time to be very thorough," she said. "On the questionnaire, we wrestled with how to glean information that will guide us."
Committee member Mark Soule said no decisions have been made. He said meeting questions have been designed to get people thinking of the possibilities.
According to Town Manager Nathan Poore, the questions address "two ends of the spectrum" – utilizing the entire schools property for public services and selling the property with the town still involved in its overall plan. They also examine all variables in between, such as selling off a portion of the property to help fund the public facilities.
Although the committee has logged many hours planning the event, it has chosen not to incude financial information on the assessed value of the properties, costs to renovate existing buildings or build new.
"We needed to get a feeling from the community before going down the road of which functions should be carried out in what spaces," Breen said.
In addition, she said the town's "public buildings have not yet been assessed."
While no formal assessment of the schools property exists because it is tax exempt, tax cards are accessible online that reflect a total assessed value of $2.1 million for Town Hall, $2.5 million for the library and $343,000 for the fire station.
According to town Assessor Anne Gregory, a rough assessment for the schools indicates the two buildings would be $1.8 million and the land would be $900,000. Gregory cautioned that various scenarios could impact the value, including commercial or residential uses and zoning.
"It's pretty difficult to determine what you should put it on the market for," she said. "In order to get those values, you would have to do feasibility studies which would be very expensive."
Even in evaluating the other properties, the use could change their value, she said.
But Councilor David Libby said he believes the properties' value and the costs to renovate them should be revealed prior to any "substantive conversation."
"I would hope at a community forum we'd have market values of these buildings and have the cost of upgrading the facilities," he said. "Unless it's going to be what Falmouth is really good at - dealing with touchy-feelies and intangibles."
Councilor Chairman Will Armitage said he's not concerned that people's answers will be skewed by the lack of access to the properties' values or renovation costs.
"You might run the risk of skewing people's answers if they knew the value," he said. "My understanding has been that this event is going to be focused on the big picture. At this stage, that information hasn't been sought because it's too early to seek it"
Although the committee considered the assessments and estimates unimportant at this stage of the process, it has spent $5,150 on the meeting. A facilitator from the Institute for Civic Leadership was hired for $3,000. Another $2,150 was spent for the use of 200 keypads from Spatial Alternatives, Inc. to conduct the poll.
Unfazed by the expenditures, Armitage said he trusted those involved in the event's planning and was comfortable with the committee's goals. He also seemed unconcerned by renovations underway on the interior of Town Hall, even though the building could be vacated if the town chooses to relocate to the schools property.
"Those are improvements that need to be done to make it usable and more efficient for the staff now," he said.
The town is currently spending about $30,000 to replace the carpeting, remove the old police locker rooms and close in a stairwell, Poore said. The money is from the building maintenance reserve account and is included in the capital plan to get five more years out of the building, he said. The renovations make room for Poore and the assistant town manager to move upstairs and give more space to the assessing department and for filing.
As the town gears up for next week's event, Councilor Tony Payne said he hopes there will be a "strong discussion" on the benefits of putting the schools property on the tax rolls and not just a discussion on town use.
"If there's a time for us to be both creative and cautious it is absolutely now," Payne said. "We have a lot of people who are feeling the stress on their incomes and property taxes are clearly something that become all the more focused on when people are making decisions on family budgets; I just don't want to see that burden increase unnecessarily."
So far, more than 50 people have signed up for the event. Registration is encouraged, but not required. It can be done online at town.falmouth.me.us or by calling 781-5253 ext. 5340.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.