Scarborough council scraps plan for community center

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Wentworth project moves forward without maintaining old building

SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council reached consensus Wednesday on a plan to fully demolish the Wentworth Intermediate School and build a new school in its place, rather than maintaining a portion of the school for a community center.

Six of the seven councilors favored the plan. Chairwoman Judy Roy was opposed.

The decision came after a more than two-hour meeting Monday where Roy and several other town officials expressed a desire to maintain part of the existing building for a community center, while other councilors, School Board and Wentworth Building Committee members worried putting a new school project and a community center project on the ballot would sink both projects.

The failure of a proposal to replace the Wentworth School and the middle school in 2006 was blamed by many on its high cost and a lack of communication to voters.

“Our No. 1 goal has been to package this for success,” Town Manager Tom Hall said Monday.

Members of the building committee indicated they unanimously supported a plan that would demolish and replace the entire Wentworth building, which has been plagued with air-quality problems, including asbestos discovered in the windows last summer and mold in the utility tunnels under the school.

But Roy said she would like to see part of the building preserved and renovated for the town’s community programs.

“There are seniors in this town that have no place to gather,” she said Monday.

On Wednesday, she again expressed support for keeping the Wentworth building.

“It is a need for a community center, not just a want,” Roy said. “I’m not convinced the current Wentworth building is in such dire straights that it can’t be renovated.”

Space in the Wentworth building is now used by community programs will be available in the new building. However, additional programs cannot be added and the preschool program operated at the Bessworth School will have to find a new home or be eliminated.

Councilor Michael Wood said he did not think it was the proper time to present another costly building project.

“This scares me, frankly,” he said Monday. “Yes, it’s an asset we’ve bought and paid for, but we’ll keep paying for it. … We can’t ask the citizens for two projects of this size at the same time.”

Hall presented an estimate of just over $1 million to convert the approximately 50,000-square-foot existing school into a community center, which the town’s preschool could utilize when the Bessworth School is demolished. 

However, due to space constraints, if part of Wentworth were to be maintained, the town would have to spend approximately $550,000 mitigating some nearby wetlands.

“It’s been said these are overly optimistic numbers,” Wood said, adding that “$550,000 is a lot of money now. More is more uncomfortable.”

Cost estimates for the new intermediate school have not yet been calculated, with the plans stalled until the council made a decision on the community center.

Building committee Chairman Paul Koziell addressed the council after its decision.

“This issue is now resolved. It’s time for us to move forward,” he said. “This project will be financially responsible. This project will address the educational needs of our future third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Thank you again and we are ready to go back to work.”

The committee plans to send voters a plan to replace the Wentworth School in November.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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