2015-01-02 / Front Page

Year in Review

A look back at a few stories from 2014
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

With the word “zumba” rapidly fading from the collective vocabulary of Post readers, 2014 may have seemed to be a comparatively sedate – or at least less titillating – kind of year. Still, a lot happened this past 12 months. In fact, much of what occurred was of a transformative nature that will continue to affect the Kennebunks long after the name of that zumba instructor is lost to history.

Her name, by the way, in case you’ve already forgotten it, was Alexis Wright. But, hey, don’t feel bad — we had to look it up ourselves.

Here then, is a short rundown of some of the bigger stories featured in the pages of the Kennebunk Post in 2014:

January

In a move that would presage news events for the coming year, voters overwhelmingly rejected $76.8 million in bonding requests to fund renovations to three RSU 21 buildings — Kennebunk High School, the Mildred L. Day Elementary School in Arundel, and Kennebunk Consolidated School, located in Kennebunkport. With a strong turnout ranging from 33 percent of registered voters in Arundel to 63 percent in Kennebunkport, 69.5 percent of voters said no to a $75 million construction bond. In a second question on the ballot, voters also rejected a $1.8 million bond targeted specifically to health and safety improvements at the three buildings, albeit by much narrower margin of 53.8 percent.


The Waterhouse Center in Kennebunk was filled with skaters Friday evening. The open-air pavilion, which is used as a public skating rink during the winter months, was made possible by a $1.5 million endowment created by Geraldine Waterhouse to foster youth activities. The center’s official opening was in October. (Doria King/ Dan King photos) The Waterhouse Center in Kennebunk was filled with skaters Friday evening. The open-air pavilion, which is used as a public skating rink during the winter months, was made possible by a $1.5 million endowment created by Geraldine Waterhouse to foster youth activities. The center’s official opening was in October. (Doria King/ Dan King photos) That sent school directors back to the drawing board and, in August, they chose Consigli Construction of Portland to take the reins of the project, with plans for a do-over referendum in November. However, within a month the school board elected to pull the planned bond vote when Consigli found an $8 million discrepancy between its projected construction costs and the $58.6 million predicted by the project’s designer, Auburn-based Harriman Architects + Engineers.

In late November, the school board switched horses, choosing PC Construction — a multi-state firm with corporate headquarters in Vermont — to replace Consigli. PC staffers visited the buildings in early December, and plan to do so again in January. Its construction estimate will be presented to the RSU administrative team on Jan. 20, and to the full school board Jan. 26. The school board will then have to decide if it wants to attempt a June referendum, or wait until November to bring the bond question back to voters.

In other January news, the school district began transitioning to the use of iPads for students, Arundel saw its request for its own zip code rejected by the U.S. Postal Service, and residents of Arundel expressed support for a new town hall.

February

Less than a week after voters rejected the school construction bond, RSU 21 Superintendent Andrew Dollof submitted his resignation, effective June 30. In a Jan. 30 email, publicly announced at the Feb. 3 school board meeting, Dollof said he had accepted a near-$5,000 raise to take the same post in Yarmouth. At the same Feb. 3 meeting, is was revealed that Assistant Superintendent Sara Zito planned to retire at the end of the school year.

In May, the school board elevated Dr. Kevin Crowley, principal at the Mildred L. Day School, to be interim superintendent. It also hired Kathryn Hawes from the Gorham school system to be the new assistant superintendent. At year’s end, RSU 21 was still in the midst of its selection process for a new leader.

Meanwhile, in other February news, winter budgets were feeling the pinch of heavy snows, a location for a new town hall was selected in Arundel and ongoing legal issues at Goose Rocks beach in Kennebunkport were declared to be still ongoing.

March

In what was deemed by participants to be a “longoverdue summit,” school and municipal leaders from Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport met to discuss capital planning. In the wake of school renovation bond recently rejected by voters, outgoing Superintendent Andrew Dollof admitted that while annual maintenance costs to district facilities topped a “conservative estimate” of more than $2 million per year, the budget had, for the previous six years, allowed no more than $500,000. And, of that, $1.5 million had come from federal stimulus money.

“We’ve fallen behind the last 30, 40, 50 years because there have been tough decisions that this community and the school board has had to make,” said Dollof, noting that, over that time, whenever funding allowed for increases to programming or building maintenance, the school board had habitually chosen the latter.

That led Al Searles, then chairman of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, to suggest the three towns begin the process of planning for regionalized services, such as a single payroll department, public works group, or police and fire service for all three towns.

“It’s difficult to do,” he said, ”but it can be done (and) in the end, maybe save all of our taxpayers some money.”

Also in March, Down East magazine named Arundel one of the best places to live in the state, Kennebunk selectmen gave their assent to new parking rules in town, and residents of Arundel gave their nod to a new utility TIF district.

April

Even as town officials began to toy with the idea of merged services, Kennebunk hired a new fire chief, tapping Jeffrey Rowe, chief of the Sanford Fire Department, to lead its fire and rescue services. A Kennebunk resident, Rowe had logged 32 years on the Sanford Fire Department, including the last three as chief.

Otherwise, it was business as usual, with the new focus on continuing efforts to redraft the school renovation project, draw up plans for the proposed Waterhouse Center in Kennebunk, and overhaul the comprehensive plan in Arundel.

May

Kennebunk selectmen announced plans to sell beach parking passes to nonresidents at three special kiosks located at the shorefront attractions, rather than at town hall. The sites were up and running by June and, in December, town Finance Director Joel Downs said sales at the kiosks topped previous efforts through town hall by about $12,000 for the season.

Elsewhere in May, Kennebunkport residents at Goose Rocks Beach began stumping for a tighter leash law on dogs, and annual budget proposals averaged 5 percent increases across the three towns of the Kennebunks, while Arundel stalled on new zoning proposals.

June

Arundel voters did, however, approve a new TIF district designed to enable construction of Arundel Seasonal Cottages on 195 acres between Route 1 and Mountain Road. Plans presented by REM Development of Massachusetts call for 259 cottages to be built on the site over the next decade in a project expected to top $58 million in construction costs. The TIF deal will return a portion of the taxes on the new development to the builder, to fund construction, while the town will earmark some to infrastructure needs driven by the boom in seasonal residency. Work is expected to begin this month on the project.

The summer also kicked off with news of new parking spots approved on the Eastern Trail, a new water taxi service to shuttle commuters in the Kennebunks, and yet more awards for the Clam Shack.

July

As July came and went, so, too, did a proposal to reduce Kennebunk’s carbon footprint by charging a 5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags. Modeled on a similar proposal in Portland, the Energy Efficiency Committee concept was killed by selectmen, who voted 6-1 against taking the idea to voters in November. “I don’t see how we have the power to do that, whether the town votes in favor or not,” said Selectman John Kotsonis.

Also in July, it was announced the Lanigan Bridge in Kennebunkport is due to be replaced, work continued on a proposed skate park in Kennebunk, and Kennebunk selectmen shot down the idea of a “reciprocal” beach parking pass that would have been honored at all beaches

in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

August

Those who oppose adding fluoride to public drinking water withdrew their request to take the question of removing the additive, first put into the local water supply in 2003, to a November referendum. Four of the seven towns in the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Wells Water District, which also includes Arundel, Biddeford, Ogunquit and York, had to approve the measure in order to trigger a public vote. Although boosted as a promoter of dental health, opponents of using fluoride, many of whom point to its past use in rat poison, view it as a carcinogen. Water district rules prevent the fluoride question from being raised again until 2016.

Other summertime stories included snarled traffic due to road construction projects, efforts by Arundel residents to oust the town planner, and the death of a so-called boutique hotel development, which saw stiff opposition from residents of Kennebunk’s lower village.

September

Kennebunkport elected to challenge new flood maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which placed some 1,800 properties in the back marsh area of Goose Rocks Beach in flood zones. The challenge is reportedly ongoing, awaiting the end of a 90-day appeal period.

September also saw Kennebunkport voters introduced to the need for dredging work on local harbors, while Kennebunk held workshops to address confusion over local zoning rules. Arundel wrestled with extending the definition of seasonal residency to further enable construction of the Arundel Seasonal Cottages development.

October

More than a year of effort was capped off in October with the official opening of the Waterhouse Center in Kennebunk. The open-air pavilion, which is used as a public skating rink during the winter months, was made possible by a $1.5 million endowment created by Geraldine Waterhouse to foster youth activities. Additionally, the town raised more than $630,000 from fundraising drives and direct donations to fund construction of the site.

Other autumn news included the decision to install security cameras on local school buses, along with a plan to address 911 addressing issues in Kennebunkport, where selectmen approved funds for dredging while putting off a public vote on the topic.

November

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court came down in favor of Arundel in its ongoing dispute with Dubois Livestock, which objected to municipal inspection of composting operations at its 6-acre facility. The high court ruled that Maine’s Agriculture Protection Act does not shield Dubois from municipal oversight. However, it was not all sun and roses for Arundel, as Town Manager Todd Shea recanted at a December selectmen’s meeting all statements he made when announcing the court decision to the board. Dubois had issued a seven-page letter highly critical of Shea’s remarks in which it vowed to bar from the property anyone not directly involved in the site inspections to which it is now subject.

November also brought news that passenger rail service might return to the region, while other headlines were dominated by ongoing details of the school renovation project and the RSU 21 superintendent search.

December

It was revealed that Arundel and Kennebunk had received a $2.5 million settlement request in a tort claim stemming from a Sept. 29 incident of alleged police brutality. When Kennebunk police and Arundel EMTs performed a well-being check at the home of David Shulenburg — he had fallen and the person he was on the phone with asked police to see if he was OK — an hour-long standoff ensued over whether Shulenburg should go to the hospital. When Shulenburg finally closed his door on police, officers allegedly broke it down, put Shulenburg in handcuffs, and took him to the hospital against his will, reportedly breaking his finger, spraining his wrist, and bruising his back in the process. Local officials have declined comment, saying only that the matter has been referred to their respective insurance agents.

Finally, ongoing opposition to an application by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust to rebuild the Perkins tidal grist mill forced a fourth planning board delay, pushing a decision into January. Kennebunkport officials also drew opposition to a plan to begin charging a fee for mooring permits, while the local chamber of commerce was taken by surprise with the sudden resignation of its executive director, forcing the group to seek out its fourth leader in as many years.

Many of these stories will continue to develop in 2015 and we invite you to send in letters to the editor with your predictions for how events will, or should, unfold. Write to editor@kennebunkpost.com.

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