North Yarmouth to vote on school redevelopment

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Selectmen voted 3-1 Tuesday to put a proposal for redeveloping North Yarmouth Memorial School on the June referendum ballot.

The successful proposal was submitted by A.H. Grover Co. of North Yarmouth. MemoryWorks and Volunteers of America of Northern New England, both of Portland, presented another combined proposal. Both can be viewed at northyarmouth.org.

Selectman Steve Palmer, who cast the dissenting vote, proposed an amendment to the motion.

“I would like to see language that guides the town into a position that might be able to bring some of the ideas together,” Palmer said. Other proposals have been presented at two recent public hearings and in writing by those who want the town to take a different route.

His motion was not seconded.

Comments were mixed during the two-hour meeing held at the school on whether the town should move forward with a proposed development, after months of discussion about what to do with the former school, or if North Yarmouth should take a step back and re-evaluate its options.

“As much as I have have been wanting, for seven or eight months now, to move this thing forward, I think we have too many ideas on how to go about that, and I’m wondering whether the board should table this motion tonight,” Selectman Jeanne Chadbourne said.

The town sent requests for proposals for re-purposing the approximately 20-acre property to more than 30 developers and firms.

The RFP followed a referendum approved by voters last November, which directed the town to stop developing the school as a municipal and community campus and not build a municipal sewer system to facilitate new development.

It also called for Wescustogo Hall – the community-gathering place destroyed by fire in 2013 – to be rebuilt, as stipulated in a 1997 agreement with the town; for Town Hall to be maintained and renovated; and for the town to seek proposals for the school building, and then gather citizen feedback on all proposals and have any plans for the school put to a referendum vote.

“The ballot questions in November were ridiculous,” Chadbourne said. “… And it sounds to me like we could work our way into doing the same thing again, unless we really look at the motions and get the right wording, so that the people’s voices are heard.”

At the recent public hearings on the school redevelopment held March 19 and 23, reactions to the two redevelopment proposals the town received in early February were mixed. A nonbinding straw poll of those in attendance at the first meeting showed 24 in favor of Grover, two for VOA, nine uncertain, 33 for none of the above, and three for a combination of the two.

The second meeting saw 19 favoring Grover, four for VOA, nine uncertain, 17 for none of the above, and two for a combination of the proposals.

From that input and other comments from residents, the board had narrowed its options to two – Grover, or none of the above – Chairman Alex Carr said. Selectmen first voted 3-1, with Palmer opposed, to reject the Memoryworks/VOA proposal, and then later voted by the same margin to move forward with Grover.

“I thank you for your proposal, and I look forward to potentially working with you (on) other land that we own in this town, that may come up in the near future,” Carr told Ken Capron of Memoryworks.

Carr noted that the matter had to move forward that night in order to make it to the June election. The project’s costs are to be available at the referendum.

Selectman Jim Moulton noted that those who oppose the proposal can simply vote it down in June, and in the meantime come up with an alternative proposal.

“If the plan’s bad, I really don’t know what you’ve got to worry about, because it will go down in defeat,” he told the audience.

Grover’s proposal contains many elements, including demolishing parts of the school building, but preserving the gym and stage area as part of an approximately 4,200-square-foot space. Grover has proposed to build a new, approximately 4,000-square-foot Wescustogo Hall on an existing foundation and concrete slab, attached to the existing building.

A 30-lot senior housing community would be built in several phases and list at $287,000, with a buffer established between those buildings and the community center. Two commercial lots would also be developed.

MemoryWorks and Volunteers of America had proposed building a 40- to 60-unit senior affordable housing facility called Crossroads.

In contrast to Grover’s proposal, which has been presented with visuals, Capron has said his proposal is not a final plan, but rather intended to be creative, and shaped by citizen input.

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

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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.