Yarmouth community center proponents seek input

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YARMOUTH — A group of residents hope to create a community center in town.

A steering committee of 14 people is floating the proposal. A public meeting will be held Sept. 27 from 7-8 p.m. at Merrill Memorial Library to discuss the idea.

“There is a need for a community center,” committee co-Chairwoman Barbara Horton said. “There definitely is.”

The idea for the center is still being developed, but Horton said it will serve several needs.

The first, she said, is to provide a new location for the Yarmouth Community Food Pantry, which is now in the basement of the First Parish Congregational Church.

“The food pantry is in the skinniest, most narrow hallway and we have no way of expanding that space,” Horton said. “However, the number of people using the pantry has increased.”

According to Horton, approximately 200 people utilize the pantry each week.

In addition to the food pantry, the community center may house a thrift shop, too.

It will also serve as a gathering place for seniors, who used to gather at the former McDonald’s on Route 1. The Yarmouth History Center has hosted weekly gatherings for seniors since 2015, when the restaurant closed.

The community center will also be the new home of Yarmouth Community Services, which operates out of a trailer behind Town Hall. 

Since March, the committee has been meeting with organizations and churches in town to determine the needs of the community. The purpose of next week’s public meeting will be to gather input from residents about what they’d like to see in a new community center.

“We want to know what the wishful thinking is, but also what the true needs are,” Horton said.

The committee will also discuss what it has accomplished so far.

Horton and her husband Horace Horton thought of the idea to create a community center last year. The pair attended meetings of Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors (YCAN) and the library’s strategic planning committee, and heard from both groups that residents wanted a space to meet.

They formed the steering committee, which includes Town Manager Nat Tupper, Town Council Chairman Andy Kittredge, and Police Chief Michael Morrill, and approached YCAN about collaborating on the project. Being under the YCAN umbrella allows the committee to apply for grants to fund the community center, Horton noted.

Along with grants, the steering committee is also seeking private donations. So far, $20,000 has been raised, Horton said. The plan, she said, is to make sure the project doesn’t rely on tax dollars.

Horton said the steering committee budget depends on a few factors. The committee is still looking at a locations for the center, which Horton wouldn’t disclose. She said the committee isn’t sure yet if it will propose buying and renovating an existing building, or buying land and building a new building.

The intent, she said, is for the community center to be in a central location that’s easily accessible. She said the committee wants it to have adequate parking, but also be within walking distance of many residents.

Horton said the committee plans to hold several public input sessions, and residents can also attend the steering committee’s meetings, which are held at the Log Cabin on the third Monday of every month at 8 a.m.

Beyond the scheduled meetings, there will be no schedule for the project until a location is found. In the meantime, Horton said, the committee will be focusing on understanding what residents want in a community center.

“This is for the town, so it should be what the town wants,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.