North Yarmouth school proposals get mixed reactions

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Opinions from residents were mixed Saturday at the first of two public hearings on a pair of competing proposals to redevelop the former North Yarmouth Memorial School.

The second hearing was planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, at the school.

MemoryWorks and Volunteers of America of Northern New England, both of Portland, submitted one combined bid, and A.H. Grover of North Yarmouth presented the other. Both can be examined at northyarmouth.org.

The town sent requests for proposals to more than 30 developers and firms for re-purposing the property encompassing approximately 20 acres at 120 Memorial Highway, which School Administrative District 51 turned over to the town in 2014 after closing the school.

The RFP followed a referendum that residents approved last November. The question called for the town to stop any work developing the school as a municipal and community campus and drop plans to build a municipal sewer system to facilitate new development.

It further stipulated that Wescustogo Hall – the community-gathering place destroyed by fire in 2013 – should be reconstructed as stipulated in a 1997 agreement with the town; Town Hall should be maintained and renovated; the town should seek proposals for the school building, and it should gather citizen feedback on all proposals and have any plans for the school go to a town vote.

Feedback is being gathered at the two public hearings, where comment cards seeking opinions on the proposals were offered. The Board of Selectmen will decide at a special meeting Tuesday, March 29, whether to proceed with one or both of the proposals. The meeting will be held at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

If a proposal moves forward, it could be voted on at the June 14 referendum.

The proposals were presented Saturday in the order in which the town received them, followed by public comment. Questions can be emailed to Town Manager Rosemary Roy at manager@northyarmouth.org, or dropped off at Town Hall, 10 Village Square Road.

Grover proposal

The proposal by A.H. Grover – whose vice president, Benjamin Grover, is the husband of Town Clerk Debbie Grover – has three major components, Dan Diffin of Sevee & Maher Engineers said.

First, the south and north wings would be demolished, while the gym and stage area would be preserved and renovated for community usage.

A new Wescustogo Hall would be built on an existing foundation and concrete slab and attached to the south wing, between the gym and Route 9.

An 80-to-90-space parking lot would be developed to the west of the building, along with a multi-purpose athletic field. An existing baseball field would be moved.

A 30-lot senior housing community would be constructed and sold in several phases, listing at $287,000, with a buffer established between the buildings and the community center. Two commercial lots would also be created.

The community center would be serviced by the property’s existing septic field, while the new housing would run off four small, separate septic systems on the northern part of the property, Diffin said.

Memoryworks/VOA

MemoryWorks and Volunteers of America call for building a 40- to 60-unit senior affordable housing facility named Crossroads, after the property’s location near the intersection of Route 9 and Route 115.

“I work a lot with seniors, and there’s a huge shortage of senior housing for low- and middle-income seniors,” Ken Capron of Memoryworks told the audience, adding that he asked VOA to join the proposal.

“They have 10 facilities in Maine and are growing all the time, and they do a better job than I think most senior facilities do,” Capron noted.

In contrast to Grover’s proposal, which was presented with visuals, Capron said his proposal is meant to be creative, and not a final plan.

“There is a lot that needs to be done; a lot of input from you folks to make this your plan, not just our idea,” he added.

“The intent is to make this campus self-funded through rental of space to health- and elder-care providers and retail services,” the joint proposal stated, noting that possible sources of funding include Housing and Urban Development loans; U.S. Department of Agriculture grants; Wescustogo insurance proceeds; donated proceeds from the sale of the original Wescustogo site by the town; a donation by the town of the entire middle school acreage; private foundations; and a capital campaign.

Resident reactions

Linc Merrill of North Road said he supported Grover’s proposal, particularly the parts related to reusing the NYMS gym and reconstructing Wescustogo Hall. He added that he does not support using fire insurance proceeds toward the alternative project.

“The second proposal that’s been presented today is really more of a study project,” Merrill said. “I’m not interested in going through a study project again; I’m interested in actually moving forward.”

Stephen Gorden of Heather Loch was another supporter of Grover’s proposal, saying, “It is something that is concrete; it did meet what was requested. That doesn’t exclude us doing something else in the future. It’s a start.”

Susan Conley of West Pownal Road, who said both proposals presented many good options, noted that she used to work for VOA, and praised the housing the national nonprofit established on Peaks Island.

“What they bring to a community is usually affordable,” she added. Working for SAD 51, she has found “there are a lot of different configurations of family who want to come to our district, who can’t find affordable housing, of all ages.”

Peter Lindsay of Mountfort Road said he appreciated both proposals, but, “We have a bigger picture that we’re still missing here.”

He pointed to last November’s competing referendum question, which called for redeveloping the NYMS property as a municipal and community campus with a municipal sewer system to facilitate new development. Town Hall would have been sold for housing or commercial development.

“Part of that proposal had … been to really consolidate our buildings within town,” Lindsay said, adding while he thought the public septic proposal caused the question to fail at the polls, “I think that there was a lot of support for the idea of consolidating a lot of our resources in the town.

“I’m very concerned that we’re going to end up with two different public buildings – a town office, and then this facility, that would be separate and add cost to our town,” he added.

Audrey Lones of Baston Road echoed Lindsay’s sentiment, and advocated for affordable senior housing in town as well. She thinks there are few people in town who could afford such housing at the rate stated in Grover’s proposal, and it would likely be people from other communities who would live at the complex.

“We seem to be going forward fast on something that really needs a lot more time and study,” Katie Murphy, of Mountfort Road, said. “There isn’t some hard-and-fast time line that we’re supposed to be following here. The fact that this has taken so long clearly means that we all have lots of different ideas about what we need in this town, and we need to come to some consensus about it.”

“We do have time to get this right,” she added. “And it’s got to be right, because what we do here has got to stand for the next 100 years.”

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

Dan Diffin of Sevee & Maher Engineers presents a proposal March 19 for development of the North Yarmouth Memorial School property by A.H. Grover Co.

Melissa Morrill of Volunteers of America Northern New England, left, describes a proposal to develop the North Yarmouth Memorial School property that her organization submitted jointly with Ken Capron, right, of Memoryworks.

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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.
  • s80t6

    Hard to believe that one bad plan could be replaced by two equally bad ones. The town made a big mistake in letting the school district unload this two-town headache onto North Yarmouth. Just because only two developers out of 30 responded doesn’t mean we should have to settle for either plan. I’d rather see the property preserved for future town use (e.g., the need for another school, expansion of the park system, etc.) or subdivided into reasonably sized residential units rather than being turned into an ugly and unnecessary development that people reluctantly settle for.

    • Kenneth_Capron

      Correction: only 1 out of 30 responded. MW heard about the RFP from town residents and couldn’t at least propose something that met the RFP for “creative uses”. There were ‘reasons’ the other contractors passed on the opportunity.

  • Richard

    It’s nice to know we spend a $100,000+ a year maintaining the building for it to become a heated eyesore. I gave up hoping the BOS or Town Manager would ever do the right thing a long time ago. Sell it and be done with it. I don’t care if its VOA or Grover. Just stop the bleeding we are spending enough on other dumb things.

    It’s been 2 years or $200,000+ in carrying costs do you really want to make it more? Talk about wasting money, seems like our town administrators are experts. Get rid of the property before we go bankrupt.