NORTH YARMOUTH — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted 3-1 in support of a nonbinding resolution to rebuild Wescustogo Hall, a centerpiece of the community destroyed by fire nearly three years ago.
The resolution, which must still be adopted by the Wescustogo Grange Hall Association, calls for the building to be reconstructed on the 120 Memorial Highway property of the former North Yarmouth Memorial School, which School Administrative District 51 transferred to the town in 2014.
The new building would continue to be called Wescustogo Hall, and would be “rebuilt as a new structure and not remodeled from an existing structure,” according to the resolution. “It shall be permitted, however, that such a new Wescustogo Hall structure is connected to the remaining structure of NYMS, specifically, community center space, which may be a remodel project.”
Under the resolution, any future municipal facilities built on the site would not be attached to the Wescustogo Hall/community center structure, but stand separately on the property.
“While the main open area of the rebuilt Wescustogo Hall shall not be permanently subdivided into smaller rooms or offices, except for necessary storage space, the floor plan of the rebuilt Wescustogo Hall may
differ from the original Wescustogo Hall,” the document adds.
The resolution calls for the now-vacant property at 475 Walnut Hill Road where the grange hall stood to “continue to be used for community purposes including potentially historic preservation or other civic-minded uses, unless, through a town meeting or public referendum, the Town approves a change of the use of property if it is determined to be no longer necessary for the use described herein.”
Limited parking space at the original site is one issue that has caused the town to look elsewhere for a location.
The Wescustogo Grange Hall Association purchased the property in the 1940s and erected the building the following decade. The group turned the building over to the town in 1997.
Association member Linc Merrill said at Tuesday’s meeting that he did “not really have any issues with” the resolution, which was developed by Town Manager Rosemary Roy.
He pointed out that both the middle school and original sites have many “complicating issues,” and said he is concerned that an expensive proposal will not be approved by voters.
“It seems like the easiest thing would be to go to the existing site and build it, because the financial implications are probably the smallest,” Merrill said. He added there are also valid reasons to build it at NYMS, “which we don’t object to, but if the fiscal note that was attached to it was so great that it killed the project, we would not get what we ultimately need, and that’s to have the hall rebuilt.”
Brian Sites, chairman of the Wescustogo Hall Building & Design Committee, noted that his group had not discussed a dollar figure, given the many factors in play. He added that his group had not foreseen the entire project being funded, but rather some of it being fundraised.
The Maine Office of the Secretary of State revived the Wescustogo Grange Hall Association in order to clarify conditions related to the donated land, but its three-month term ends Aug. 19, Roy said in an interview July 14.
The resolution came out of a July 12 group discussion between the Board of Selectmen, Sites and Merrill – representing both the Wescustogo Grange Hall Association and Wescustogo Hall Committee.
That committee, formed per the 1997 agreement through which the Grange transferred the property to the town, ensures that the agreement continues to be carried out, according to Merrill.
The building and design committee is focused on the replacement structure.
Despite Tuesday’s decision, North Yarmouth voters must approve action taken as a result of the resolution, Roy said.
“The townspeople have the final say,” she said.
Selectman Anne Graham, who made the motion supporting the resolution, called for the town to move forward with hiring an architect to explore placing the Grange at NYMS and, if town did not raise the needed funds, to also look into the original site as well.
Selectman Jeanne Chadbourne, who voted against the resolution, expressed concern that “it almost is too invasive, or unclear, about the structures that are there” at the NYMS site.
A redevelopment proposal for North Yarmouth Memorial School failed at the polls last month, 968-360. The A.H. Grover Co. proposal included demolishing sections of the school building, but preserving the gym and stage area as part of a space of approximately 8,900 square feet.
Grover would have also built a new Wescustogo Hall of approximately 7,800 square feet on an existing foundation and concrete slab, attached to the existing building.
A prior referendum, which town voters supported 812-637 last November, in part called for Wescustogo Hall to be rebuilt as stipulated in the 1997 agreement overseeing its transfer to the town.