North Yarmouth voters halt effort for new Town Hall

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NORTH YARMOUTH — A special Town Meeting Tuesday narrowly defeated a proposal that would have allowed the town to explore construction of a new Town Hall.

Opponents successfully argued that the prospect of a new municipal building would jeopardize plans to rebuild Wescustogo Hall on the site of the former North Yarmouth Memorial School on Route 9.

The argument carried enough weight to defeat the article favored by the Select Board, which would have repealed a prior vote requiring the town to retain, renovate and, if needed, expand the current Town Hall.

Tuesday’s vote was 98-87 against repeal.

It took more than half an hour at the start of the special meeting at the school to get everyone who attended in the door and checked off the voter rolls. Many said that more people came to Tuesday’s meeting than often attend the annual meeting where the town budget is decided.

The Select Board sought permission to pursue cost estimates for a new Town Hall, following a recommendation earlier this year by the Town Office Renovation Committee. The committee found, in part, that the existing municipal building is no longer suitable.

In the notice for the special Town Meeting, the Select Board said the committee “concluded that renovating the current Town Office would be ineffective and a waste of money.”

It said “the committee cited problems with poor layout; inadequate storage … high utility and maintenance costs; and noncompliance with ADA standards.”

It also said “recent studies from two environmental consulting firms have (also) reported significant issues with mold and air quality.”

In introducing the issue Tuesday, board Chairman Peter Lacy said since residents voted to keep the Town Hall back in 2015, “information has come to the board that it’s just not possible to renovate” the building.

He said the goal of Tuesday’s meeting was essentially to free the town’s hands to explore the possibility of building a new Town Hall at the same site as the new Wescustogo Hall.

That project also includes plans to tear down much of the former Memorial School, while retaining the gym, stage and kitchen area, and linking what would become the community center to Wescustogo Hall through a connected lobby.

Lacy argued that repealing the 2015 decision would only authorize the Select Board to move forward with a design process, and that voter approval would be required before any construction on a new Town Hall was allowed.

Several residents agreed with him, including David Holman, who said, “It doesn’t make sense to limit our choices.”

But Linc Merrill, a member of the Wescustogo Grange Hall Association, said putting a new Town Hall together with plans for rebuilding the hall, which was destroyed by fire in 2013, would lead to defeat for replacing the historic grange building.

“The Grange Hall Association strongly opposes” the Select Board’s measure, Merrill said. “There’s little belief that the hall will be rebuilt.

“Do not kill the grange project by continuing to move this forward,” he added. “We’ve got to rebuild the hall, that’s what I really care about.”

Another resident, Steve Parisi, said, “We should have rebuilt the hall within weeks of it burning down.”

He also noted, “We told the (Select Board) we wanted Town Hall to stay right where it is and steps should have been taken right away to fix (it).”

After the first article on Tuesday’s warrant was defeated, it didn’t take long for residents to also defeat a second measure that would have allowed the Select Board to use $65,000 to pay for design work on a new Town Hall.

Following the meeting, Lacy said he’s unsure what will happen now.

The Select Board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 15.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Residents at North Yarmouth Memorial School voting against a measure Tuesday that would have authorized the Select Board to pursue design of a new Town Hall.

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