Harpswell asked to pay for bandstand upkeep

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HARPSWELL — After four seasons of support from private donations, supporters are hoping the town will agree to maintain the bandstand at Mitchell Field.

The town-owned structure was built in 2013 with volunteer effort and about $80,000 in private donations. Bandstand-By-the-Sea Committee Chairman Bob Modr had the idea for the bandstand in 2009 when he noticed the Mitchell Field Comprehensive Plan lacked a building dedicated to the arts.

The private committee that built the facility – which is now a town committee – gave the building to the town in 2013 with the understanding that private fundraising would continue to fund its operating costs.

When Town Meeting authorized construction in 2010, the language in the article said construction would be “at no cost to the Town and on such further terms and conditions,” which gives the impression that tax dollars would not be expected to cover the continued cost of maintaining the building.

But as the novelty of the bandstand has waned, so have large donations. Modr said the committee would like the town to maintain the building like any other town property, so that all committee donations can go to programming.

At a Sept. 29 Board of Selectmen meeting, Modr used the analogy that if he gave someone a car as a gift, that person shouldn’t expect him to keep maintaining it.

The bandstand’s current operating budget is between $6,000 and $8,000, which supports the 15 concerts the committee presents between June and September, each of which draws an average of 150 people,  Modr estimated.

Over its four years of operation, a portion of the budget has gone to maintaining the building, mostly to clean mold from the wooden ceiling. Funds will also have to be used to replace batteries for the rooftop solar panels, which have an estimated five-year lifetime.

The committee is asking the town for $3,000 a year, based on the cost of removing mold (estimated to cost $2,500 biannually) and the batteries (each of which cost a few hundred dollars, Modr said).

Selectman decided to consult the the Budget Advisory Committee for a recommendation before they make a final decision.

The bandstand committee previously appealed to the budget panel for funding in 2014; minutes from a Sept. 16, 2014, meeting show that the committee requested $1,000 for maintenance. Modr said Tuesday that the budget committee operated under the misunderstanding “that (the bandstand) would be no cost ever to the taxpayers, but that’s not the case.”

“Taxpayers, like any other part of town property, should pay for (maintenance). The concert series is totally different, and that’s where funds are donated,” Modr said. He emphasized in a letter to selectmen that the committee is still dedicated to raising programming costs through fundraising and donations.

If the budget committee approves funding, the money would be built into the overall budget that is voted on during at Town Meeting next March.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The Mitchell Field Bandstand in Harpswell was built and has been operated entirely through volunteer efforts and fundraising. Now the town is being asked to take over maintenance.

Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.