Cumberland-North Yarmouth arts center goes to November ballot

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CUMBERLAND — Whether to borrow as much as $9.5 million to build a performing arts center will be up to voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth next month.

The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors voted 7-2 Monday to put the question to the Nov. 8 ballot. A public hearing will be held in the Greely High School library at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17.

Detailed information on the project can be found at

The School Board voted 6-2 Sept. 8 to approve language for the question.

If voters approve the proposed 27,000-square-foot center – which would be built at the rear of Greely High School, on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. building and its outdoor track – construction could start next summer and conclude in fall 2018.

Debt for the center would be tiered over three years, to minimize the expense as existing debt is retired, school district Finance Director Scott Poulin has said. Interest-only payments would come in 2019 and 2020, followed by peak interest and principal payments the next year. 

The impact of the increase on the tax bill for a $300,000 home would be $9 in Cumberland and $12 in North Yarmouth in 2019 and 2020, and then $69 in Cumberland and $84 in North Yarmouth in 2021.

The difference is based on each community’s property valuation. Cumberland has a larger commercial tax base and hence more property value; the greater the valuation in a community, the less impact there is on the tax rate, Poulin noted.

Annual operating costs for the 500-700-seat center could be nearly $133,000, including $32,000 for a theater manager; $43,000 for a custodian; about $39,000 for energy costs, and about $18,000 for maintenance and supplies.

Voters in 2003 approved a 475-seat facility for $5 million, but the bond amount ended up being insufficient to cover construction costs. A follow-up referendum for an additional $1.5 million failed, killing the project.

While a $9 million figure had been considered this time around, the $9.5 million cap is meant to provide flexibility so the district will not have to go back to the two towns again for more money.

Comment at Monday’s meeting was limited to School Board members.

John Simpson, who with Kate Perrin voted against the bond question, said he can see the merit in having a performing arts center, but is concerned about other capital expenditures on the horizon.

“I don’t think that there’s been enough financial analysis of the cost of those alternative projects, or the relative trade-offs in value,” Simpson said, “comparing those projects to the value that we would get from a performing arts center.”

“I am excited to vote for this,” member Mike Perfetti said. “It’s strategically important, it’s financially feasible … and I would encourage people to imagine a school system without a varsity soccer field, or a gymnasium. It would get built immediately.”

But those cater to extra-curricular activities, while music, and the performing and visual arts are curricular, Perfetti said.

He asked that people imagine a concert in a cafeteria, a reference to Greely High’s “cafetorium” – a combined cafeteria and auditorium space.

“Imagine performing a science experiment without a science lab,” Perfetti said. “That’s essentially what we’re asking kids to do (currently), who sing, play instruments or put on performances.”

The School Board’s 10-year facilities plan, approved in June, calls for construction of the arts center, as well as improvements at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School and sections of Greely High School. Data on elements such as optimal grade configurations is being collected before facility work at Mabel I. Wilson begins.

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

Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters will decide next month whether to borrow up to $9.5 million to build a performing arts center for the school and general communities.

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.