Wescustogo cost raises concerns in North Yarmouth

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Faced with a potential $3.88 million cost for the reconstruction of Wescustogo Hall and an adjoining renovated North Yarmouth Memorial School, several residents last week asked for more budget information.

The final gathering in a four-meeting public forum series on the project was held  March 15 at the former NYMS. Town officials will spend the next few weeks finding ways to pare down the budget, as well as developing a list of its components, as the reconstruction heads toward a June referendum.

Fire destroyed the former Grange on Route 115 in 2013. Parking limitations at that site, which neighbors the Village Green, largely prompted the town to explore the former NYMS property – which School Administrative District 51 closed and transferred to the town in 2014 – as an alternate reconstruction site.

Barrett Made, a Portland-based design and build firm, is working with the town to design a community center composed of a partly-demolished NYMS, and a new Wescustogo connected through a lobby, viewable from the corner of Memorial Highway (Route 9) and Parsonage Road.

A 3D animation showing the exterior and interior of the complex is available at northyarmouth.org.

The town would demolish much of the 42-year-old school building, and preserve and renovate the stage, gym and kitchen area, which together measure about 4,150 square feet. The backstage area would be converted to a community room, and the hallway running alongside would be refurbished and opened up with new windows.

Entry to the building, dubbed North Yarmouth Community Center, would be through an approximately 1,200-square-foot lobby, which could have a coat check, restrooms, a ticket booth for Wescustogo events and a mural evoking the original Grange.

The new Wescustogo would be about 4,500 square feet and fit about 300 people, and able to be divided off into three distinct areas via sliding partitions to facilitate separate activities at the same time.

Although Barrett Made and the Wescustogo Building and Design Committee had aimed for a $3 million total project cost, the actual budget as currently projected would be $3.8 million. Nearly $431,000 in remaining insurance funds from the original Wescustogo would be subtracted from that amount, as well as $250,000 to be obtained through fundraising.

Almost $3.17 million would be borrowed through bonding, with the highest tax impact, nearly $265,000, coming the first year, and costs decreasing the remainder of the debt term. The first-year cost to a $275,000 home would be $148.50, and a $450,000 home would see a $243 cost.

Despite having those numbers, several residents asked for a breakdown of what specific elements would be included in the project budget.

Stressing the importance of knowing what exactly is included and what is not, resident Gary Whiting said, “I would hate to see it go down in flames in June because of bad feelings, that not everything was identified, and the total cost really wasn’t represented.” 

“We’ve been at this for a really freaking long time,” Wescustogo committee Chairman Brian Sites responded, saying he was “furious” when he saw the higher price tag, “because we had a charge to get in at ($3 million), and we didn’t hit it. But this is what it’s going to cost to build this building. So I’m really confident that these are the right numbers. And if the town doesn’t want to do it, the town’s going to vote against it. But we have to move forward.”

He’s passionate about the project for his children, Sites said, adding, “there’s nothing in this town that connects my kids to North Yarmouth.”

Radiant heat is included, Town Manager Rosemary Roy responded to one resident, but that could be removed in order to decrease costs. Exterior landscaping and lighting are to be included, but furniture is not. A 5 percent contingency is also added in.

The new facility would require two positions – a building supervisor and custodian/maintenance supervisor – which, with full benefits, could cost $130,000.

There are “A few dedicated people doing a lot of work” on the Wescustogo committee, Select Board member Steve Morrison said, but he lamented a lack of members of the public showing up at those twice-monthly meetings. That committee is due to meet at NYMS at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 22, to reduce the overall budget.

“What can we take out, not compromise the building, but bring that number down,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about the number; I pay taxes in this town.”

The Select Board must decide the ballot language, and have it to Town Clerk Debbie Grover, by April 4, Morrison said.

“You can do the math; it’s short,” he said. “But I’m very confident that the number that we bring forth is comprehensive, and it’s tight.”

A public hearing on the warrant article will be held at least 10 days before the June vote.

Although Morrison had once “strongly opposed” the project due to its projected cost, he has since changed his mind.

“What is the value to the community, beyond how much your taxes are going to go up,” he said. “It’s a gathering place. I just see this town is at a turning point; we need a win. We need something like this to happen.”

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

John Barrett, left, and Matt Ahlberg, the owner and design services director, respectively, of Barrett Made, field questions during a forum at the former North Yarmouth Memorial School March 15. The Portland-based firm is working with the town to design a community center and new Wescustogo Hall.

The new Wescustogo Hall and a trimmed-and-renovated North Yarmouth Memorial School would be connected through a lobby, viewable from the corner of Memorial Highway (Route 9) and Parsonage Road. The visual is from a 3D animated tour of the facility produced by Barrett Made.

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.