North Yarmouth opinions mixed on Town Hall reconstruction

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Reactions were mixed at a public hearing Tuesday on whether a new Town Hall should be built on the former North Yarmouth Memorial School property.

Some said the town is moving too quickly on too many expensive projects, while others argued that critical issues have been left languishing too long.

With a design largely complete that would place a rebuilt Wescustogo Hall next to a trimmed and renovated North Yarmouth Memorial School, the Select Board is also looking into building a new Town Hall on the Route 9 site. A special Town Meeting to spend $65,000 in undesignated funds on that design work will be held Tuesday, Aug. 8.

The new Wescustogo Hall would replace the structure destroyed by fire in 2013. School Administrative District 51 closed and transferred NYMS to the town in 2014. The town is considering demolishing much of the 41-year-old school building, while preserving and renovating the stage, gym and kitchen area.

The new Wescustogo would be erected just south of the building, named the North Yarmouth Community Center, and connected through a lobby.

At the same time, the town is also faced with issues at the Town Hall at 10 Village Square Road, which was built in 1993 as a four-story home. It has housed town offices since 2001.

Problems include a lack of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, which requires the installation of an elevator; air-quality and mold concerns due to air and water leaks in the building; and flooding in the basement, where public meetings are held, Town Manager Rosemary Roy has said.

Andy Walsh, chairman of the ad hoc Town Hall Renovation Committee, told the Select Board in February that the building’s “poor layout” has caused problems such as a lack of space, a need for a larger vault, and insufficient office, conference room, break room/kitchen and bathroom spaces. Maintenance and utility costs are also concerns, he said.

Walsh’s group found that renovating the building “would be ineffective and a waste of money,” and instead recommended looking to the NYMS site for a new Town Hall.

Tuesday’s hearing, which crowded the Town Hall meeting room at the beginning of the Select Board meeting, was meant to garner public input in advance of the special Town Meeting to be held at North Yarmouth Memorial School.

Voters that night will decide whether to spend $65,000 from unassigned funds to pay Barrett Made through December, allowing the company time to create plans for a new Town Hall at the level at which its Wescustogo/Community Center concept currently stands.

Residents Aug. 8 will also vote whether to rescind part of the town’s November 2015 referendum decision, which in part called for renovating and building onto the existing Town Hall.

Mark Verrill of Walnut Hill Road said the NYMS site is not the answer for a town office or Wescustogo, and that the $65,000 should go toward mitigating mold problems at the existing Town Hall. Wescustogo should be rebuilt on its original Route 115 site, and to a smaller scale, given the recently approved SAD 51 performing arts center to be constructed in neighboring Cumberland, he said.

Adding that some of North Yarmouth’s services could be handled through Cumberland, Verrill added that spending $2-3 million and moving Town Hall to the NYMS site is “not forward thinking … in the world that we live in today, a more modernized, consolidated world.”

Fellow Walnut Hill Road resident Clark Whittier said he disagreed with everything Verrill said, arguing that if the front part of the NYMS building could be renovated and used as a town office, “that’s the way to go. The thing is, that piece of property sets you up for the next 75 to 100 years.”

Calling the proposed funding “money well spent,” he said, “you get a plan, and I think it’s good that you’re going to get all of the cost estimates in at the same time.”

Gary Whiting of Mill Road said that in his 47 years in North Yarmouth, he couldn’t remember “such a large amount of money being pushed through the town process quite so quickly.”

“I’m surprised that this issue, with this building, was not recognized at a time of Town Meeting, when we would have a much larger percentage of our population here,” he added. “… I just think it’s being pushed too fast, with too little information, to too few people.”

Linc Merrill of North Road, a Wescustogo Grange Hall Association member, expressed concern that adding a Town Hall to the NYMS mix “is endangering the project for the gymnasium and for Wescustogo Hall. … This feels like we’re poking the bear; everybody was really, really quiet, and now people are very angry.”

“I believe that there’s probably a chance that all of the issues will fail, because the tax implications are beginning to set in people’s minds,” Merrill added, noting the impact of the SAD 51 performing arts center in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth district on the tax burden.

Katie Murphy of Mountfort Road countered that she felt a sense of relief, not of anger, noting the opportunities presented by the availability of the NYMS site for future development.

“We have an opportunity here to consolidate the town office functions and a Wescustogo Hall over in one site to create efficiency,” she said, adding that given Town Hall’s issues, “you don’t try to jury rig and sit and stay in place, which is what we’re doing right now.”

Select Board member Anne Graham echoed those sentiments. She noted that the Aug. 8 vote is only to fund designs to determine the feasibility of putting a town office at NYMS, not to authorize any construction, and that the $65,000 would not impact taxes.

“This is one step moving forward,” she said. “And in my opinion, we have been stuck in the mud forever.”

Graham added that it has been four years since Wescustogo burned, and the town is at risk of losing insurance proceeds due to not taking action in that time.

Select Board member Steve Morrison said he was “a little pissed” at seeing a lack of public participation throughout the course of a process, and instead hearing complaints toward the end.

“Get off of it, and come and volunteer and try to be constructive, no matter … where you sit on (the issue),” he said. “Come help us.”

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

The North Yarmouth Select Board on Tuesday held a public hearing in advance of an Aug. 8 special Town Meeting, where voters will decide whether to spend $65,000 toward design work at the former North Yarmouth Memorial School.

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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.