North Yarmouth breaks ground on Wescustogo community center

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Five years and a month after a fire destroyed the town’s landmark Wescustogo Hall, golden shovels were plunged into gravel to launch construction of the hall’s replacement.

A small group gathered at the 120 Memorial Highway site of the former North Yarmouth Memorial School the morning of Sept. 13 for the brief ceremony.

The Wescustogo Hall & Community Center on Route 9, which will replace the former Grange on Route 115, will sit next to a renovated and partly demolished NYMS and be attached to that building through a lobby.

“It’s been a journey with a lot of challenges, but we’re finally here,” Town Manager Rosemary Roy told the group. “And about 13 months from now we’ll be cutting a ribbon, and we’ll have a very wonderful facility here to enjoy for a long, long time.”

The project narrowly passed in a referendum last November. Some praised it as the creation of a much-needed community center, while others expressed concerns about its cost.

Aside from Roy, Wescustogo Grange Hall Association member Linc Merrill, Select Board Chairwoman Jennifer Speirs, Matt Ahlberg of Barrett Made, and Wescustogo Hall Building and Design Committee Chairman Brian Sites gave short speeches before digging in.

Barrett Made, a Portland-based design and construction company, has worked with Sites’ committee to develop the 17,000-square-foot community center.

Speirs, who joined the Select Board a little more than a year ago, noted that “this particular project consumed much of our work in the last year, and it’s really nice to see this project finally come to fruition. It was a diverse group of residents that really spent tireless and countless hours working on this project.”

Merrill, who was involved in the Grange association’s transfer of the original Wescustogo to the town in 1997, said, “I’m really happy that we’re at the point where we’re actually going to move forward; I can take this off my list of things to worry about.”

Now the town must focus on its fundraising phase, he noted. The project has a fundraising goal of $250,000, and the Friends of Wescustogo is leading the effort. The group had raised nearly $6,300 as of Sept. 14, according to Roy.

“We still need to raise money for this project from contributions from people in the community who’ve got an interest in making sure this project goes forward,” Merrill said. “I hope you’ll be attentive to the information that you receive, and the pleading that you hear.”

“I honestly didn’t think this day was going to come,” Sites said. “It’s a pretty exciting time.”

Since SAD 51 closed NYMS in 2014 and turned it over to the town, the school building has been used for Town Meetings, elections and community activities. It was closed in July in advance of the work ahead, with fencing erected, the building emptied, the power shut off, and gasoline and oil extracted.

Partial demolition was due to begin Monday. After that the building’s remaining gym, stage, kitchen and hallway areas will be renovated, and the new Wescustogo built. The center is due to be completed by November 2019.

The town is paying Abatement Professionals $36,000 to remove asbestos from the 1976 structure, and Scott Dugas Trucking & Excavating of Yarmouth is receiving about $123,700 for the demolition, according to Roy.

Those funds come from a $3.4 million bond town voters approved last November. The total projected cost of $3.67 million is being offset by nearly $431,000 in insurance funds remaining from the original Wescustogo Hall.

A 7 percent additional contingency of about $224,000 is included in the bond amount. With $1.3 million in interest added over the 20-year life of the bond, the total amount to be borrowed is $4.8 million.

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

North Yarmouth residents celebrated the upcoming start of construction of the Wescustogo Hall & Community Center with a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 13. From left are Select Board Chairwoman Jennifer Speirs, Wescustogo Grange Hall Association member Linc Merrill, Matt Ahlberg of the Barrett Made design and construction company, Wescustogo Hall Building and Design Committee Chairman Brian Sites, and Town Manager Rosemary Roy.

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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.