Falmouth council: Town Hall should stay put

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FALMOUTH — A possible community center project was delayed Monday after the Town Council tabled a resolution describing the project’s potential space needs.

But councilors reached a consensus about keeping the Town Hall on Falmouth Road.

The motion to table the community center resolution was made by Councilor Bonny Rodden, who said she was uncomfortable moving forward without Vice Chairwoman Teresa Pierce, who was absent. It passed 4-2, with Councilors Faith Varney and Fred Chase opposed.

The resolution, which the council will take up again at its Dec. 13 meeting, recommends a new community center with a floor area of between about 8,000 and 18,000 square feet. But it advises that the size be flexible based on “the most suitable location and available funding for such a center” or on a possible multi-use building, such as a library-community center.

An amendment proposed by Councilor Cathy Breen to strike the “most suitable location” language and to add the phrase “of programming space,” after the square footage numbers failed.

While the debate over creating a community center in Falmouth has gone on for years, a specific proposal was included in the Community Facilities Planning Committee presentation to the council last spring. The committee’s recommendation included moving Falmouth Memorial Library to the Lunt School building, the town hall to the Plummer building and, with some renovations, creating a community center in the Motz wing and Mason gymnasium.

Five residents spoke in favor of the community center project during a public hearing.

“There’s so much potential for a community center. We’re such a sprawled out community, to have something that centers us,” resident Linda Adams said. “It’s about developing character in the community.”

Adams said she is a fitness instructor and would like to offer classes if space becomes available. 

Marna Miller encouraged the council to consider revenue-generating possibilities of a community center, particularly one with a kitchen and gymnasium. 

“In the North Yarmouth community space, their calendar is booked every day this month except Veterans Day,” Miller said.

While the resolution does not specifically mention the Motz wing and Mason gymnasium, councilors mentioned the building as a possible location for a community center. The same proposal was made by the Community Facilities Planning Committee earlier this year.

The total Motz and Mason space is more than 15,000 square feet, which is on the high end of the resolution recommendation.

Town Hall

Town Manager Nathan Poore also presented a summary of required updates to the current Town Hall.

He estimated the cost to improve the building at just over $600,000, including a 10-foot expansion of the Council Chambers, ventilation system upgrades, exterior siding, windows, shingles and insulation. Additional costs, such as engineering, architecture and furnishings would add another $200,000.

The renovations were presented as an alternative to moving the Town Hall to the Plummer School building next year, which was the recommendation made by the Community Facilities Planning Committee earlier this year.

After the presentation, several councilors expressed concern that if the Town Hall is moved to another building, it would be difficult to find potential buyers for the current building, which was estimated during earlier presentations to be worth around $750,000.

“This building would be extremely difficult to sell,” Rodden said. “It’s not the same as the library building. I’m satisfied with staying here.”

While Breen pushed the council to consider what spending $600,000 to $800,000 would look like in Falmouth Memorial Library and the Plummer and Lunt buildings if they were retrofitted to accommodate a town hall, all the other councilors in attendance concluded that keeping the Town Hall in place is preferable.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net