2015-10-09 / Front Page

Arundel scouting sites for town hall

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — More than a year after approving plans for a new town hall, Arundel selectmen still face a debilitating problem — they have no place to put it.

At their Sept. 28 meeting, selectmen debated three options currently on the table, concluding only that each has its drawbacks.

The solution was to have Town Manager Keith Trefethen create a spreadsheet showing side-by-side comparisons of the three potential plots, for further review at the next board meeting, Oct. 12.

Of the three locations, a 4-acre field on Limerick Road has garnered the most support among selectmen, in part because of its proximity to the center of town, Eastern Trail and Kennebunk River.

It also won broad support from about 140 residents who completed a survey on a town hall move, circulated in early 2014.

“Actually, the people who took that survey said they wanted the new town hall to be as close to the current location as possible,” said Velma Jones Hayes, vice chairman of the board of selectmen, in a recent interview. “There is land there, but it’s just not available.”

One lot that reportedly is available, directly across from the current town hall, at 468 Limerick Road, is a non-starter.

“It’s too small,” Selectman Thomas Danylik said at the Sept. 28 meeting.

To provide adequate space for the 8,000-square-foot, single-story building under consideration, as well as parking, selectmen are crossing off their list any site that is less than 3 acres in size.

The potential building site further up Limerick Road has ample space, but comes with some strings attached.

The biggest drawback is the price tag.

At a Feb. 10, 2014 meeting, selectmen voted 4-0, with Jones Hayes absent, to move forward with negotiations on that site. However, former town manger Todd Shea reported at the time that the owner wanted $300,000 for the parcel. Given the construction estimate for the building itself — pegged in early 2014 at $1.8 million — that asking price has remained a stumbling block.

Numbers reported by Shea in 2014 predicted a 40-cent increase in local property taxes, per $100,000 of assessed value, based only on construction cost of the new town hall. How much stomach voters may have for a town hall bond, so soon after approving a $56.5 million borrowing package to renovated three RSU 21 buildings, including the Mildred L. Day Elementary School, remains to me seen. Still, Shea did say in 2014 that, “we have the money,” to cover the $300,000 price without having to bond that part of the project.

However, also gumming up the works is debate over who will build an access road to lots behind the Limerick Road field, which the owner wants to retain for potential future development.

“At the price he’s saying per acre, if he want to put in a road, great,” Selectman Dan Dubois said at the recent meeting. “But if he wants us to put in a road, to me that’s an enormous price.”

Town Manager Keith Trefethen reported that, according to Town Assessor Beth Newcombe, the average building lot in Arundel ranges from $45,000 to $85,000, which seemed to push selectmen further from closing the Limerick Road deal.

Also on the table is a parcel of nearly 8 acres, located diagonally across Route 1 from the Arundel Flea Market.

That was the option pushed by Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault at the Sept. 28 meeting.

“Because people use email and what-not, it’s not like a fire station, that has to be centrally located,” she said. “A spot on Route 1 is only going to encourage more small businesses to grow right in that area.”

“If it is the intent of the board of selectmen to encourage economic development in the town of Arundel, then the center of that development ought to go down the middle of the Route 1 corridor,” agreed John Bell, a member of the town’s economic development committee, who spoke earlier in the Sept. 28 meeting of the need for the town to get in on high-speed Internet lines recently announced as an initiative by city of Sanford.

However, the owner of the Route 1 property reportedly won’t sign off on any deal that does not include piping public sewer lines to the site.

“He won’t even talk to us unless we put sewer there,” Dubois said. “He says he won’t even discuss it until we can put sewer on the property.”

“Of course, we don’t have sewer anywhere in town right now,” Jones Hayes said.

“And even if we wanted to put sewer (lines) in, (the) Kennebunk (Sewer District) is not ready for it,” Chairman Jason Nedeau said. “We can’t make a promise that sewer is ever gong to go in there.”

“Well, he [the owner] feels sewer is an important aspect to the development of that corner,” Trefethen said. “I think there’s a lot that we might not be privy to, but I think he wants to maximize the number of lots he can get there.”

Town officials also have recently toured a potential building site on Campground Road. However, that property is described as “raw land,” and would require clearing, not to mention soil tests and engineering by Sebago Technics, which already has inspected the other sites.

“I like that spot, although it has more work that needs to be done,” Selectman Phil Labbe said.

“I just hate to be looking at properties and continue spending money to have Sebago brought out here,” Dubois said.

Building sites previously considered by the board, but now seemingly discarded, included lots on Route 111 and Bergeron Drive, both of which were included in the 2014 residents survey.

“Everybody is looking for a site for the new town hall,” Jones Hayes said. “You have one and think, ‘That’s going to be a perfect site,’ and then there’s a glitch, and the owner says, ‘No, we’re not going to do anything right now.’”

Jones Hayes said she’s for the Limerick Road location.

“It’s ready for us to go in there and start building,” she said. “We don’t have to look at wetlands. We don’t have to look at filling. We don’t have to look at anything other than the cost of the property and would we be putting in the [access] road.”

The need for a new town hall in Arundel is driven by the age and condition of the current building, long deemed insufficient for the town’s use.

“That current town hall is very inadequate. Extremely inadequate,” Jones Hayes said.

Arundel Town Hall was built in the late 1800s as a public gathering spot then known as Parvo Hall.

After it passed into town hands, selectmen held their meetings on the second floor, at least until a handicapped person tried to attend one session.

“We had to move the meeting to a first-floor hallway, so that person could have their questions answered,” Jones Hayes recalled.

Since then, selectmen have met in the library at the Mildred L. Day School.

That would be fine if handicapped accessibility were the only issue, but it’s not.

The first floor offices, partitioned from the building’s days as a function hall, are cramped.

And, Jones Hayes details, “The stairs are not good, we can’t put in an elevator, there’s no room for parking, and voting has to be done at the fire station, while all the trucks are parked outside.”

Worse, town records are in constant danger.

“We have a vault where, when it’s humid, there is actually moisture on the inside of the walls,” Jones Hayes said.

Do not go up and ask the town clerk what she thinks of the current town hall, because she just might tell you. It’s just not a good situation.”

At a February 2014 board meeting, then-manager Shea predicted increasing costs to taxpayers if selectmen failed to find a site for a new town hall.

“I keep hearing, ‘We’ve discussed this for 20 years, what’s the rush?’” he said, adding that if a decision about a new town hall wasn’t made soon, “We’ll have to start making improvements to the current town hall to bring it up to code.

“If we wait another three to four years, we will have issues,” Shea said.

Sure enough, only one year later, costs are beginning to mount. At their Sept. 28 meeting, selectmen backed Trefethen’s decision to hire local contractor John Getchell at $35 per hour to be a jack-of-all-repairs handyman about town hall.

“The caulking is literally falling off the windows,” Trefethen said, explaining the need.

“Not only was he a very competitive wage, but he’s also an Arundel businessman,” Trefethen said, noting Getchell’s was the lowest of five bids for the work. “I figured we should give him a shot of at our business before we look at others.”

In addition to re-caulking windows, other pressing repair needs to town hall include door replacements, exterior trim replacement and painting, reattachment of siding and flashings, and repainting of the handicap ramp.

Meanwhile, the search for a new building site continues.

“We just have to find the best location to put it in,” Jones Hayes said.

“We’re open to anything,” Danylik said.

However, that said, it’s remains to be seen just how much future debate on the topic will remain open to the public.

At the Sept. 29 meeting, Trefethen tried to maneuver selectmen into giving him some guidance on which option to pursue of the three sites currently under consideration. Although some selectmen voiced a preference, the board as a whole balked at weighing in with a consensus. What opinions were given may now be as much as rank-and-file taxpayers will know until a final decision is made.

“We may need to do this in executive session,” Danylik said. “If we start expressing our preferences for something, that puts is in a weaker negotiating position.”

Return to top