Cumberland-North Yarmouth arts center nears November ballot

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CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors is expected to vote Monday, Oct. 3, on whether to place construction of a performing arts center on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The board held the latest in a series of informational sessions on the matter Monday evening at the former North Yarmouth Memorial School. The next session will be in the Cumberland Town Hall Council Chambers at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6, followed by a public hearing in the Greely High School library at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17.

Detailed information on the project can be found at

Architect Stephen Blatt on Monday presented his firm’s concept plan of the proposed 27,000-square-foot center. Funding is proposed by borrowing no more than $9.5 million. If Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters approve the project, 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, according to Finance Director Scott Poulin. Interest-only payments would come in 2019 and 2020, with peak interest and principal payments the following 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, Poulin said.

“The difference is based on each community’s property valuation,” he said. “… As we know, Cumberland has been growing and having more of a commercial tax base, more property value, and so the higher the valuation in a community, the less impact there is on the tax rate.”

Annual operating costs 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.

The center’s capacity could vary between 500 and 700, and, although it may be built at the rear of Greely High School – on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. school and the outdoor track – it would serve all grade levels. It would be an asset to the schools and the Cumberland-North Yarmouth community, SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter has said.

Although a 475-seat facility was approved in 2003 for $5 million, the bond amount ended up being insufficient to cover construction costs. That required a follow-up referendum for an additional $1.5 million, which failed and killed the project.

A $9 million figure had been considered this time around, but the $9.5 million cap provides flexibility so the district would not have to go back to the community again for more money, according to Gigi Sanchez, a School Board member who chairs the facilities and arts center building committees, and serves on the finance committee.

“We are very excited about having the opportunity to have the voters have a voice in this, and what it means to our children, but also what it means to our community, in terms of giving the community a stage,” she said Monday.

Noting the significant investment the project would entail, Sanchez said, “This is going to be the heart of our community,” pointing to the added confidence and unique feeling the programming would give students.

The facility would replace the “cafetorium” – a combined cafeteria and auditorium space – now used at the high school.

Blatt, a 25-year Cumberland resident whose firm was involved with recent expansions at Greely Middle and High schools, said his firm is very familiar with the campus.

“All of my kids went to school here, and I have sat through many plays in the cafeteria,” he told Monday’s audience. “So I am biased. It’s not just because I want the design job, it’s because you need a performing arts center.”

The two-floor facility would include a 40-foot-tall fly loft, used to store scenery out of sight, and would also house teaching spaces for band and chorus, Blatt said. The cost also includes about $1 million for performing arts equipment.

The School Board’s 10-year facilities plan, which it 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.

SAD 51 is “seeking stakeholder input and studying changes in community demographics and housing capacity that will impact enrollment and, in turn, future facility needs,” Porter has said. “These efforts will contribute to decisions around facilities priorities and timing over the next decade.”

Porter also confirmed that SAD 51 officials discussed placing the arts center in North Yarmouth. After North Yarmouth Memorial School closed in 2014 and the Drowne Road elementary school closed in Cumberland, all of SAD 51’s schools are on one campus in Cumberland Center, bordered by Main Street and Tuttle Road.

“Because of the proximity to the schools, it would have made it very difficult to place a performing arts center in North Yarmouth, instead of on the campus where the schools are,” Porter said.

Although he has heard sentiments about placing school facilities in both towns, the superintendent said, “I think the investment that the district has made to put all the buildings on one campus is also serving us well with the students right now, in that all of our infrastructure is in one place, and we can share services pretty easily.”

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

A rendering of a performing arts center added to Greely High School in Cumberland. The project, capped at $9.5 million, could go to Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters in November.

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.