$900K: Too much for Town Hall?

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — The numbers are in.

The potential costs are a little higher than Casco town officials would like.

Fortunately, the town is not married to those estimates and no one is setting a wedding date yet.

The Casco Board of Selectmen recently received the cost estimates from one firm for two Town Hall options: Building new on the vacant property near the Casco Fire Station, and revamping the former TD Bank building in the Village.

For both options, the space was downscaled as much as possible. The Town Hall could expand later. Not starting with an excess of space (or debt) has been the approach of town officials.

Chairman Grant Plummer commented on the latest engineer’s sketches.

“Those estimated costs are scary: $900,000 plus for both options. It is important for us to get down to exact numbers and exact plans,” he said.

“The basics are about the math — something in the $600,000 to $900,000 range. As a board, one of our initial next steps is to get a clear understanding of time ranges. Is this a two-year plan? Is this a five-year plan? How is it going to affect the everyday taxpayers in Casco,” he said.

The board has been moving forward with Town Hall plans, and was given a couple different options for floor plans for the town-owned building in the Village, as well as a build-new option on the property where the Town Office is located.

Earlier during the public participation portion of the meeting, two residents backed the idea of converting the Grange Hall into the Town Hall. Because it is a historical building, grants could be available to aid in paying for construction project, they said.

Plummer disagreed that that space would offer a viable solution.

“When you look at a tax map, the Grange building is not doable. There is no room for septic there. It is a neat old building? Yes.

Does it need improvements? Yes,” he said, adding that location was not on the table.

“One thing that is truly important: This is a building that the Town of Casco is going to own for a long time,” Plummer said.

“We need to look at the energy efficiency. That will be money in the bank. Over time, it will be cost-effective,” Plummer said.

Selectman Thomas Peaslee said that as the town gets closer to an exact plan, the town can put it out to bid — and get below that $900,000 estimate.

Residents Lynne Potter and Peg Dilley both advocated for using community volunteers to get the job done. As members of the Casco Energy Committee, both women had toured the Town of Dayton’s energy-efficient building, and learned how residents had pulled together to keep costs down.

“I agree with you on Dayton. They did a phenomenal job. They saved thousands of dollars,” Selectman Mary Fernandes said.

The chairman acknowledged the concept.

“I hear you. I know what you are saying. We are at the stage that we have to come up with a plan and how we are going to fund it, before we ask for volunteers,” Plummer said.

Resident Dilley spoke at the podium, saying now was the time to recruit volunteers, to get people committed to the construction project before the exact floor plan and the exact cost is on paper.

Selectman Calvin Nutting offered the flip side of the coin.

Nutting works as an accountant for the Town of Frye Island. That town is in the process of building its Town Hall, and officials and townspeople decided to take the volunteer route to cut costs, he said.

“The initial budget was $150,000,” he said.

“There are good things and bad things (about using volunteer workers). Instead of one chief, you have 10 or 20 chiefs,” he said.

“They have been working on it for a year; and, they don’t plan to have it done until next fall. That’s another side of the story,” Nutting said.

Establishing a concrete timeline was another issue that was brought up by residents. After all, to some it seems like the Town Hall questions have gone unanswered for more than five years.

Resident Linda Mocello asked about a timeline on the Town Hall construction issue.

“I think it would be nice if we could have it done before I am in the nursing home next door,” Mocello said.

“We aren’t making progress in decision-making,” she said.

Plummer said the board will continue to pursue cost-effective options for the town hall, and the item was put on the agenda for the Feb. 24 meeting.

“It took the wind out of my sails when I saw those numbers,” he said.

“I knew those numbers were coming. But that is excessive for Casco,” Plummer said.

Town Manager Dave Morton reiterated the top priorities for the board and the townspeople regarding this project.

“No matter what happens going forward, the two biggest hurdles going forward are location and cost,” he said.

“There is a lot of sentiment on locations:

Back in the Village or at the current location,” he said.

“Costs: We need to figure out how to manage those costs so (they have) the least impact on taxpayers,” Morton said.

 

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