2016-07-15 / Front Page

New wrinkle in town hall search

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — The long slow slog toward a new town hall location got a new wrinkle Monday, July 11, when an abutting landowner to one potential site offered an acre of his property to help sweeten the scales in his direction.

More than two years after approving plans for a new town hall, selectmen still face a debilitating problem – they have no place to put it. However, after juggling a host of potential locations, two finalists have emerged.

One is a 4-acre field on Limerick Road. That one has arguably garnered the most support among selectmen, in part because of its proximity to the center of town, the Eastern Trail, and the Kennebunk River. It also won broad support from about 140 residents who completed a survey on possible town hall locations, circulated in early 2014.

The biggest drawback to that site, however, has been the price tag. In February 2014, former Town Manager Todd Shea reported 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.

Shea said at the time the project would result in a 40- cent increase in local property taxes per $100,000 in valuation, based only on construction cost of the new town hall. How much desire voters may have for a town hall bond, so soon after approving a $56.5 million borrowing package to renovated three RSU 21 buildings, remains to be seen.

However, another factor is the debate over who will build an access road to lots behind the Limerick Road field, which the owner has said he 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 meeting last fall. “But if he wants us to put in a road, to me that’s an enormous price.”

The second site under consideration is a 10-acre parcel already owned by the town, adjacent to Weirs Motor Sales off of Route 1. That lot, donated to the town “many years ago,” according to Town Manager Keith Trefethen, is a former dark horse candidate to host the new town hall, which emerged as a front runner after selectmen dismissed another Route 1 site long under consideration.

Still, there are drawbacks to that location as well.

“It’s very rocky, very ledgey in there, so there are challenges to build on that site,” Trefethen said on Monday.

Additionally, the lot does not sit directly on Route 1. It can only be accessed by a right-of-way that’s 50 feet wide and more than 400 feet long.

A report prepared for the town in June by South Portland based engineering firm Sebago Technics predicted site preparation costs of $975,936 at the Route 1 site. That’s $365,684 more than it would cost to ready the Limerick Road property for building construction, the company said.

In addition to the need to blast ledge, site work costs at the Route 1 lot are ballooned by the presence of freshwater wetlands, streams, and vernal pools, Sebago said.

“These natural resources limit the buildable area, resulting in the need to place septic disposal fields and stormwater treatment systems beneath the parking areas, adding significant costs to the site,” the Sebago report reads.

But then along came Jim Plamonden, owner of Aube-Plamonden electrical contractors, who also works for the town as a commercial electrical inspector.

Plamonden’s property at 1405 Portland Road is 2.13 acres and was once two separate lots, he said at Monday’s selectboard meeting, and he’d be willing to let the back half go to the town, given that it directly abuts the potential town hall site.

“Quite frankly, I’m becoming of the age that I don’t feel it has any use. I don’t feel like I’m going to develop that in the future,” he said. “So I thought I’d put it up to offer.”

Plamonden’s only condition was that he be allowed a curb cut for a driveway onto the new street the town would build from Route 1 to the town hall. Plamonden’s current driveway is partly on that right-of-way access and partly on a small spur from his lot, which has 50 feet of frontage on Route 1. Plamonden said he would sell that small plot to James Trenalange, who would like it to widen and improve the lot his dental office is located on, at 1389 Portland Road.

“So, then my frontage would be on the new street, rather than on Route 1,” Plamonden said. “I understand this [offer] is a little bit self-serving for me.”

The advantage to the town, in addition to adding an acre that might improve options for septic and stormwater collection, would be the ability to place the new town hall closer to Route 1, thereby shortening the length of the new access street.

According to Selectman Phil Labbe – owner of Labbe Excavating and a recognized expert by his selectboard peers on roadwork matters – knocking 100 feet off the length of the new access road would shave about $40,000 off street construction costs, given an average of $400 per foot to build a road.

No price for the lot was discussed at Monday’s meeting, although Plamonden intimated a willingness to donate the 1-acre parcel when board Chairman Velma Jones Hayes asked if he’d be willing to deed it to the town.

“Yes,” he said. “Basically, I just wanted to put this out there as an option.”

Selectmen asked Trefethen to have Sebago Technics work up a new estimate for the site, taking into account the acre offered by Plamonden, along with his driveway access request. Trefethen said he hoped to report back on that revision in the near future.

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 has said in past interviews with the Post.

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. With that building now undergoing extensive renovations, the board is currently meeting in the fire station lunchroom.

That would be fine if handicapped accessibility were the only issue at the current town hall, but it’s not. The first floor offices, partitioned from the building’s days as a function hall, are cramped.

“What’s more, 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,” Jones Hayes said.

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.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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