North Yarmouth volunteer group's work earns foundation award

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Although the road to reconstructing Wescustogo Hall has had its fair share of twists and turns the past four years, the work its rebuilding committee has put into the effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by an Augusta-based nonprofit group.

The Wescustogo Building and Design Committee received a Spirit of America award Oct. 10 during a meeting of the Cumberland County Commissioners. The honor has been presented more than 500 times, according to the Spirit of America Foundation, which was established in 1990 to honor volunteerism.

Fire destroyed the former Grange on Route 115 in 2013. Parking limitations at that site, which neighbors the Village Green, had largely prompted the town to explore an alternate location for the building.

The former North Yarmouth Memorial School property on Route 9, which School Administrative District 51 closed and transferred to the town in 2014, was supported by the Select Board in January to be the location of a new Wescustogo.

Barrett Made, a Portland-based design and build firm, has been working with the town to design a community center composed of a partly demolished – and renovated – NYMS, and a new Wescustogo connected through a lobby.

The Board of Selectmen later considered paying the firm another $65,000 to explore a new town hall on that site as well, given issues such as air quality and handicap access at the current Village Square Road site.

In order to allow for a new location, a special Town Meeting vote in August was required and asked residents to repeal a 2015 referendum mandating the town retain, renovate and, if necessary, expand the current Town Hall. That vote failed, 98-87, which stymied the Wescustogo/NYMS project.

“A lot of the air went out of the balloon,” Wescustogo Committee Chairman Brian Sites said in an interview Oct. 12. “I think a lot of folks … lost a little bit of passion around the Wescustogo project for a while.”

But the committee has pushed on, and the Spirit of America award served as a timely nod to its work.

“We’d been working on a project that was a huge community focus and has been for a long time, and we’ve brought together a very diverse group of people,” Sites said, noting the award “was just about the way that we were able to work together and move things forward in a very positive way, and all the while … engaging with the community.”

In an Oct. 3 letter to Sites, Select Board Chairman Peter Lacy said his panel was targeting a project cost of no more than $3 million, of which no more than $2 million would come through bonding. The rest could come from about $480,000 in remaining insurance proceeds from the original Wescustogo, and the balance through fundraising.

The committee plans to hire a professional fundraiser, Sites said, noting that roughly $500,000 “is a pretty big lift, especially to a community like ours.”

Still, given the appeal a new community center could have for the region, “we might be able to find some dollars outside of our own borders,” he added.

The project’s design process is about 25 percent complete, and Sites hopes it will at 75 percent by December.

“We’re not going to accelerate on getting to the end really quickly,” he said. “There’s a lot of community work that we need to do first, a lot of people who are still recovering from (the August meeting) who … we need to re-engage with.”

“There’s going to be a lot of work, not just on the design element, but also on the community engagement element,” Sites added, “to get this project back on track.”

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

North Yarmouth’s Wescustogo Building and Design Committee received a statewide Spirit of America volunteer award at the Cumberland County Commissioners’ Oct. 10 meeting in Portland. Brian Sites, at center, is the committee’s chairman, and Jennifer Smith, at right, is its secretary. Stephen Gorden, at left, is a commissioner from North Yarmouth.

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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.