Cumberland council OKs lease for closed school, plans meeting on quiet railroad zones

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CUMBERLAND — The Drowne Road School may get a new lease on life, thanks to a lease the Town Council approved Monday for development of the now-closed building.

The council also set a joint meeting with Falmouth councilors for Monday, Sept. 19, to discuss railroad quiet zones.

Portland-based Bateman Partners, which wants to convert the 17,600-square-foot Drowne Road School to senior housing, will lease the building through 2061.

The plan is expected to create about $4 million to $5 million in equivalent taxable real estate. It is the last of three phases in the Village Green Revitalization Master Plan, although the first phase is still before the town and awaiting permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

In that phase, the 40.7-acre Doane property will be developed as a 59-lot residential subdivision with a mix of single-family and duplex homes.

“We are experiencing more and more stress on an annual basis for people transitioning from the full-size home to something a little bit smaller, and they want to stay in the community,” Town Manager Bill Shane said. “So this definitely fits a need.”

Cumberland’s request for proposals called for several development specifics, including at least 35 units for rental senior housing or independent living, each between 800 and 1,000 square feet; a community room or library; a nurse on site all the time, and on-site parking.

Bateman will pay the town $480,000 – the balance of a bond that funded improvements to the building in the late 1990s – over three years. It will also pay the town $80,000 each year in lieu of taxes, with a negotiated escalation clause to cover annual local tax increases. As long as the town owns the property it cannot receive taxes from it, which explains the payment in lieu of taxes.

The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors voted last year to close the school and use it for other purposes, and to move the third grade to the Mabel I. Wilson School. Voters in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district supported the decision in June. As a result, the building has reverted back to the town.

While it used the school, SAD 51 made annual payments to the town for work on the building, and $480,000 is left on that $1.7 million renovation bond.

The conversion project will ultimately require site plan approval.

Shane has said the first and third phases of the revitalization project are expected first, while a proposed second phase could come later.

The Public Works and school bus facilities would be moved in that phase. Six single-family and 12 duplex homes would be built in their place, along with a nearly 43,000-square-foot mixed-use building that would house 20 residential rental units and 14,300 square feet of office or retail space.

Quiet zones

The Town Council also unanimously supported having a joint meeting with Falmouth councilors to learn more about railroad quiet zones from the Federal Railroad Administration. The meeting will be held at Cumberland Town Hall at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19.

The council also appointed an ad hoc subcommittee to focus on quiet zones.

Shane said several citizens have approached the Town Council about establishing quiet zones in the town. He said Cumberland has four railroad crossings in a 2.7-mile stretch of track, and that upgrades to the rail line to facilitate Amtrak service from Portland to Brunswick will require those crossings to be gated.

“With a gated-type intersection you can ask for consideration (from the Federal Railroad Administration) for an additional quiet zone,” Shane said.

A quiet zone would mean a train would not blow its whistle as it approached a crossing. A quad-gate system, rather than the two-gate systems planned with the Amtrak upgrades, would be necessary with quiet zones, Shane said.  Other options would be wayside horns – devices at the intersections that would create less noise than a whistle – and channelization, a sort of curbing in the center line of the road to prevent vehicles from going around the gated arms.

Approximately 13 freight trains run through Cumberland each day, and Amtrak has planned three trains next summer and potentially three more in the future, Shane said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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.