$300,000 bond eyed for Bridgton Town Hall

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton voters may be asked this June if the town should borrow up to $300,000 to fund basic structural repairs to Town Hall that will allow its continued use for recreation programs and as the town's voting place.

Selectmen, on Tuesday, directed Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz to have the town attorney finalize language for the binding referendum, based on recommendations made in a recent engineering study of the vintage turn-of-the-century building on North High Street.

"Your decision was to hit the priorities only," Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said, in explaining the proposed borrowing amount, which would be reduced by any other funding from Community Block Grant money, other grants or budget appropriations.

The week before, the board held a workshop to discuss the findings in a building evaluation report done by structural engineer Eric Dube of Casco Bay Engineering that listed over $750,000 in renovations recommended for long-term future use. The report found immediate framing issues caused by moisture intrusion, a definite need to improve energy efficiency and needed roof repairs, along with other issues.

The report came two years after voters agreed in a nonbinding referendum that they were willing to spend up to $400,000 to make basic repairs to the building, ensuring that existing structural problems do not get worse.

At the workshop, the board agreed in a straw poll to continue using the building for adult basketball, since Dube had said that the use was not adversely impacting the structural integrity of the floor or underlying framing system, and that having over 200 people in the building at one time for Town Elections actually has more of an impact.

But when it came to the subject of three other high-impact recreation programs held there — baseball, softball and lacrosse — a majority of the board felt that perhaps it was time to stop holding those programs in Town Hall, because of the damage being done to walls and the ceiling by errant balls.

The lone holdout was Selectman Paul Hoyt, who convinced the others to hold off on voting to eliminate holding those programs inside Town Hall, at least for now. The board agreed to have Recreation Director Gary Colello investigate netting systems and other means for allowing batting cages to be used inside the building. Colello will report back to the board on his findings at their Feb. 11 meeting.

"Before saying flat out, no, let's look at all the options, ways to keep those walls and ceiling protected," Hoyt said.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder said the batting cages have to be anchored by cables across the entire gym floor to allow batting practice to be held there, and that the setup disrupts other programs such as basketball.

"It created a lot of hate and discontent with other sports," he said at the workshop.

Selectman Doug Taft said Bridgton Academy has a ceiling netting system that is worth looking into, if it doesn't cost too much.

Selectman Ken Murphy said, however, that it doesn't make sense to put $300,000 into the building if the town is going to continue to allow damages from high-impact sports programs.

"I don't remember, as a child, seeing a baseball being thrown in there," Murphy said.

Colello said the town is in a quandary because there is no other place to hold the programs, which involve around 250 children in the early spring. Stevens Brook Elementary School allows use of its gym for town recreation programs, but only as the school sports schedule allows.

"If we took (baseball and softball) out of Town Hall, the other towns would continue to practice and we'd have to wait until the snow melts," Colello said.

"Personally I really hate the fact that baseball and softball, and even lacrosse, are in there," Colello said of Town Hall. "It's not beneficial to have such a small space to play. But I'm open to finding different ways for them to get the practice they need."

Colello said, "If anything, I would like too see space made available for art, drama, but there's no room. We can get by with the gym as it is if it's all fixed up."

Please follow and like us: