NORTH YARMOUTH — Lengthy debate about what the town should do with the former North Yarmouth Memorial School may culminate Tuesday, June 14, when voters decide on a redevelopment proposal for the property.
The proposal endorsed by the Board of Selectmen and submitted by A.H. Grover Co. of North Yarmouth includes demolishing sections of the 120 Memorial Highway (U.S. Route 9) school building, but preserving the gym and stage area as part of a space of approximately 8,900 square feet. Grover would build a new Wescustogo Hall of approximately 7,800 square feet on an existing foundation and concrete slab, attached to the existing building.
The new Wescustogo would replace the Grange destroyed by fire in August 2013.
A 30-lot senior housing community would be built in several phases and list at $287,000 per unit, with a buffer established between the buildings and the community center. Two commercial lots would also be created.
The town will retain 10 acres of frontage along Route 9, using Wescustogo insurance proceeds and funds from selling the parcel’s remaining 10 acres to Grover to offset the expense of construction.
The town proposes bonding $500,000 over 10 years to fund the remaining project expenses. Payments are estimated to be $60,000 annually, replacing debt service the town has paid on other infrastructure due for final payment in October, according to Town Manager Rosemary Roy.
In its February proposal to the town, Grover put the cost of the town’s part of the project at $1.74 million.
Offsetting revenue to the town, according to Grover, could be $425,000 from the land sale to his company; the sale of sand and gravel at nearly $219,000, which would be made available after lowering the elevation of the land under the senior housing community, and nearly $627,000 in insurance reimbursement funds from the original Wescustogo Hall.
As a result, the total cost to complete the municipal portion of the project could be nearly $468,000; the $500,000 bond would include contingency funds. The town would also earn revenue off taxes from the senior housing community as it is built out, according to Grover.
School Administrative District 51 closed the school and transferred it to the town in 2014. A referendum last November rejected a previous plan from selectmen for redevelopment of the property, and called for new proposals.
The Grover proposal has received mixed reviews from residents at public hearings on the matter, most recently during a May 17 Board of Selectmen meeting, according to a video posted at townhallstreams.com. More information can be found at northyarmouth.org.
The proposal “crosses … a few things off the list that have needed to be done for quite some time,” Mark Verrill of Walnut Hill Road said at the meeting, adding that he opposes municipal and recreational spaces being in the same area.
“We’ve stalled for too long, and we need to move forward,” he noted. “… I’m excited that a local contractor stepped up to the plate to do the work.”
Nelson Smith of Ledge Road praised the plan for having followed the process the town had set forth.
“I think if we put this off again, we’re going to again send a message out there to developers: ‘You don’t want to work in North Yarmouth,'” he continued, adding that “Grover’s proposal is going to meet a lot of the things that we asked. It’s going to take care of Wescustogo … (and) some housing, it’s going to take care of some athletic fields.”
Echoing the desire to move forward, Smith said, “I don’t really want to have (the NYMS) building for another winter.”
Echoing a citizen “North Yarmouth Can Do Better” campaign, Katie Murphy of Mountfort Road outlined several reasons to vote against the proposal. She called it “irresponsible to commit to this proposal without knowing how it’s going to fit into a complete North Yarmouth town center plan,” adding that selling off half the school site would break up a significant piece of town property “that will be a huge asset to us in the future.”
Murphy also noted that the proposal does not call for moving Town Hall – the offices of which many people have said need expansion and improvements – to the NYMS site, and is therefore “not an efficient, forward-looking and cost-effective plan for our town’s future.”
With the town hiring a planning consultant to help North Yarmouth with its town center plan, “why should we go forward with this proposal without first knowing what a complete town center plan is,” she asked. “It’s really putting the cart before the horse.”
Former Selectman Steve Palmer of Mountfort Road – who wanted an alternative question considered at June’s referendum – said, “My concern, foremost, is the community.”
Palmer resigned from the Board of Selectmen after a 3-1 decision March 29 to put the Grover proposal on the ballot.
“This has been an issue that has divided this town,” he continued, adding that he expected the yea and nay tallies to be close June 14. “If we hit the reset button, we vote no, I’m willing to bet the farm that you’d probably get an 85 percent vote in support of a new plan.”
Palmer expressed a desire for the community to come together on a plan, adding that he did not think the referendum question’s success in June would do that “in the least. I think it’s only going to make matters worse.”
This graphic suggests A.H. Grover’s proposal to redevelop North Yarmouth Memorial School as a community center, with a 30-lot senior housing community in the background.