Space crunch may oust North Yarmouth Historical Society

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The historical society may be squeezed out of its longtime home at the fire station.

The private North Yarmouth Historical Society has for several decades been housed at 463 Walnut Hill Road, sharing a building with the town’s Fire-Rescue Department, a Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office substation, and until several years ago, Town Hall.

The town’s insurance company recently informed Town Manager Rosemary Roy that the town did not have leases with the historical society and sheriff’s office, something that is being rectified, Roy told the Board of Selectmen Sept. 6.

In her two years with the town, she said, “there has always been the real known issue … that the Fire-Rescue facility is running out of space,” Roy said, as it has grown from a call company to a department, with more employees and equipment.

The Sheriff’s Department substation was moved last year from the front office to a smaller area, allowing live-in student firefighters to move into the front of the building.

“Now again, we’re running out of that space, and it’s time for us to have the historical society find another location,” Roy said, noting that neither she nor Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson have an issue with the small area the sheriff’s office occupies. Town officials feel that having the substation near a main road is good for the town, since North Yarmouth lacks its own police coverage.

The sheriff’s lease will be on an annual basis with no charge. The NYHS lease, also at no charge, will be month to month with the hope that the organization will have found a new location after a year, Roy said.

Alex Carr, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, suggested that a space could be reserved for the Sheriff’s Department at the former North Yarmouth Memorial School property after it is redeveloped.

That could also materialize for the historical society, Roy said, “but we’re not quite there yet.”

She said she is planning to meet with society members about the move.

“I’m not going to be standing at the door kicking them out on that very last day; I want to be flexible and work with them on this,” Roy said. “But we have to have this goal; we have to free up that space.”

Jeanne Chadbourne, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, questioned whether moving the society would provide much of a benefit to the Fire Department, because the space in question is 582 square feet.

“The historical society is a space about as big as this table,” she said. “What’s that going to do for a fire engine?”

The space would be used for storage, Roy responded.

The society headquarters is cramped, comprising a well-stocked workroom and vault, a 40-square-foot entryway with filing cabinets, recent acquisitions, and supplies, and a 32-square-foot former cleaning closet that houses the society’s computer and other files.

As a result, society President Katie Murphy and other members of the small volunteer crew have been seeking a significantly larger space for storing and displaying their archives. With redevelopment of the North Yarmouth Memorial School on the horizon, and relocation of the 1853 Old Town House to the modern center of town under consideration, the group is weighing its options.

“I think anybody that walks into our archives knows that we are out of space,” Murphy said in an interview Sept. 7. “We would love to find a new location; we don’t have one yet. We feel that our future is in proximity to municipal buildings.”

“We just don’t know how it’s going to evolve,” Murphy added. “I look to our selectboard to help us with this, and, in fact, I felt that there was a great amount of support for us” at the Sept. 6 meeting.

Selectman Anne Graham said she “would like … to make a commitment to work with the historical society” in finding it a new and improved home.

“I think we should be pretty lenient” on the time frame, Selectman Paul Napolitano said. “We can’t just throw them out in the cold.”

Although the historical society is a private organization, the town could still ask voters to approve the funds necessary for a new headquarters, Roy said.

“We did it for Skyline Farm,” Napolitano said. “There’s no reason why we can’t do it for the historical society.”

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

A space crunch at North Yarmouth’s fire station may cause the town’s historical society to leave its longtime home there by within the next 12 months. Katie Murphy, left, and Dixie Hayes, are society volunteers.

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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.