North Yarmouth panel makes case for rebuilding Wescustogo

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NORTH YARMOUTH — With a referendum vote eight weeks away, members of the committee charged with designing a new Wescustogo Hall and a renovated  North Yarmouth Memorial School stressed the importance of the project at a public forum April 12.

Meanwhile, a recently completed facilities report states that a wing of the 1976 former school eyed for demolition is still in largely good shape, leading some to question whether it should be razed.

A $3.43 million bond for the project goes to voters June 12. A community forum is to be held at the former school, 120 Memorial Highway (Route 9), at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10. A Select Board public hearing on the bond warrant is being held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 15.

Fire destroyed the former Route 115 Grange in 2013. Parking limitations at the site, which neighbors the Village Green, largely led town officials to eye the former NYMS property – closed by School Administrative District 51 and transferred to the town in 2014 – as a new location.

Portland-based construction company Barrett Made has been working with the Wescustogo Building and Design Committee to develop a community center composed of a partly-demolished NYMS, with the gym, stage, kitchen and hallway areas retained. A new Wescustogo, viewable from the corner of Memorial Highway and Parsonage Road, would be connected through a lobby.

A 3D tour of the exterior and interior of the complex is posted at https://bit.ly/2v2ovW8.

The new Wescustogo would be a multi-use facility, mixing athletic and community events for all ages, along with town-sponsored activities, all to take place simultaneously in multiple sections of the 17,000-square-foot building, Wescustogo Committee Chairman Brian Sites told a sparse audience April 12.

“We really want this space to be a focal point of the community. … I have two girls who are 8 and 11; where they think the center of town is, is over where the school is,” Sites said, referring to the Greely campus in Cumberland. “They have no sense of what North Yarmouth is as a community, and we really want to make this space as accessible for them, as for everyone.”

Echoing Sites’ point, fellow committee member Darla Hamlin said the project is “my passion, because I want our children to know they’re from North Yarmouth, and not from Greely. And there’s nothing wrong with Greely; it’s just, hometown is hometown.”

The panel has a project fundraising goal of $250,000, and “whatever we raise … we’ll deduct from that bond when we actually take it out,” Sites explained.

Getting the campaign off the ground hasn’t been easy, Hamlin noted.

“The fundraising aspect of this has been difficult at best to get started, because of stop and go” points in the process, she said, stating the need to “get a solid plan in place, and some momentum.”

Attention was turned to the parts of the school to be demolished should the June vote pass. Speaking of the murals that grace the walls, resident Steve Palmer said, “I know for many people they have wonderful memories, and they’re extraordinary pieces of art. … It would be a shame to lose those.”

Preserving the artwork through digitization and reproduction in the new community center was one solution expressed.

The entire school costs $60,000 annually to maintain, of which $12,000 alone goes toward heating, Town Manager Rosemary Roy said. Solar panels are to be built on both the remaining school and new Wescustogo, with an eye toward creating a very energy efficient facility.

Questions have been raised in town recently, such as at the Select Board’s April 3 meeting, about whether parts of the school should be preserved for future town needs instead of razed, in light of a recently-released capital needs assessment of all North Yarmouth facilities.

That March 5 report, produced for the town by Criterium Engineers, rates the back wing of the school as largely in “good” condition. Included in that assessment are the interior finishes and fit-out, bathrooms, exterior doors, the southwest-facing roof, foundation, structure and roof insulation, and utility services.

Asphalt driveways, parking areas, walkways, landscaping, yard lighting, signage, wood siding and trim are rated “fair,” and the northwest-facing roof, wall flashing, and parapet caps, and windows are deemed “poor.”

The report can be obtained at the Town Office.

Criterium was tasked with assessing the entire school, not just the rear portion, and is in the process of reviewing the front wing as well, Roy said.

Although demolition of the rear and front wings has long been part of the Wescustogo committee’s proposal, the report assesses them in case the bond question fails, since the town would still need the data in determining the building’s future use, the manager explained.

Regardless of whether the ballot question fails, the town must rebuild Wescustogo, as per a 1997 agreement with the Grange when it transferred the original building to the town.

In closely examining the town’s roughly 400 acres of properties and weighing the pros and cons, the NYMS site kept emerging as the best location for the development, Sites said.

“We want a 50-year building; we want a building that my kids will fight for if it ever gets knocked down … when they’re my age,” Sites said, noting that the 20-acre NYMS property provides ample space for a “really fantastic community center,” and for future expansion.

While proposing to demolish the wings wasn’t easy, “at the time that we were doing the analysis it made the most sense from a cost standpoint, he added, explaining that renovating the whole school and building a new Wescustogo could be “cost-prohibitive to really make that project go through.”

Given the data the committee has received and the research it’s done, “we’ve felt really good about the decision to take those two wings off,” Sites said. “… We based these decisions 18 months ago on the information we had at the time.”

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

Brian Sites, chairman of the Wescustogo Building and Design Committee, fields questions at a public forum at the former North Yarmouth Memorial School April 12.

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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.