North Yarmouth mulls new use for aging school

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NORTH YARMOUTH — With the fate of the soon-to-be-closed North Yarmouth Memorial School still far from certain, one proposal is to convert its septic system to handle community waste water.

The Board of Selectmen will hold a presentation on the idea in the Town Office meeting room at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 29.

It’s a pivotal time for the town, with decisions to be made about what to do with the school, which will close in June and be transferred to the town, and the property left after the fire that last August destroyed Wescustogo Hall, the town’s longtime meeting and voting place.

“By trying to look at this in a global way … there’s really a lot to be gained, because there are a lot of pieces in motion that we could take advantage of,” Selectman Mark Girard said last week.

Steve Palmer, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, noted at Town Meeting April 12 that the school’s septic system could be a starting point for a waste-water treatment system for the Village Center District, which he said is consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan. He said the soil profile would allow expansion of the system.

By re-purposing the building as the town’s municipal center, with offices, meeting rooms and a gym, the student campus could become a community campus, Palmer said. A special Town Meeting late this year or early in 2015 could decide the fate of the 38-year-old building.

By then, the school’s fourth- and fifth-grade students will have been moved to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

A key element of the school’s value is what it can be used for going forward, Girard said, adding that “use has a lot to do with the ability to have a septic system. Obviously the school, in almost any conceivable use, is going to have a lot (fewer) people in it than it does currently. That capacity certainly was something that was very appealing.”

Some residents have suggested Town Office site could be sold and re-purposed for denser housing, if the office were moved into the school, Girard said.

Undeveloped and underdeveloped lands “could be utilized a lot more effectively, and create … a village in the … district,” Girard said.

Selectman presented the community septic system concept at an April 7 board workshop.

According to that meeting’s minutes, key points are that it would “be economically feasible, as expense could be scaled to demand and could be funded with Tax Increment Financing;” it would “facilitate expansion of the town’s tax base,” and would also create a process through which the town’s aquifer resource would be protected and enhanced.

An engineered system would be in place that would be closely monitored, and as the system grew over the years, more of the waste would be treated, so that instead of more sewage going into the ground, clean water would be discharged, Girard said.

Among possible next steps are the creation of a request for proposals for a mixed-use, high-density development at the existing Town Office property. The North Yarmouth Veterans Memorial Park would remain as is and not be included, were such a sale to occur, according to the board’s minutes.

Since the new development would tap into the community septic system, smaller lot sizes could be fit where the Town Office now stands, Girard said.

“The school and the septic system are basically coming to us at no cost,” he said. “Through a combination of the sale of the (Town Office) land, and user hookup fees, and the insurance proceeds from the Wescustogo Hall, we have a mechanism to fund all of these interrelated activities.”

Creating a tax increment financing district around the village area would allow the town to capture the new growth value in the tax base, Girard added.

Selectmen have also discussed the possibility of expanding natural gas service to North Yarmouth, since it is now being made available in Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth.

“The gas company’s more than happy to do that, so long as there are enough customers to support the business,” Girard noted. “And that again gets back to density.”

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

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.