Bridgton tries to keep pace with project list

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Selectmen are chipping away at a long list of overdue projects by making a list and sticking to it. They don’t want to lose sight, as often happens, of issues they’ve promised the voters they would address.

Near the top of that list are renovations to the Old Town Hall. Voters agreed over a year ago in a nonbinding vote the historic building was worth saving — as long as it wasn’t too costly. Given a range of price options, from a full historic reconstruction to basic structural repairs, voters preferred spending around $400,000.

On Tuesday, the board voted to send out a Request for Proposals to have a basic structural review performed on the North High Street building as a first step. “We got our litmus test” through the straw poll, said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz. He said the RFP description needs to be kept sufficiently general in nature, because the board is still divided on what uses would be allowed to take place there after renovations are complete.

Currently, Town Hall is used extensively by the town’s Recreation Department for high-impact basketball and other sports. Selectmen Bernie King, among others, believes those uses should not be allowed after repairs are completed, in order to protect the town’s investment of significant taxpayer dollars.

But Selectman Chairman Paul Hoyt said “I feel totally the opposite,” reasoning that it doesn’t make sense to invest a lot of money in a building that would only be used at the annual town meeting or on election day.

The board agreed, however, that the debate over uses could wait for another day. Berkowitz said he would begin advertising the RFP as soon as next week. The cost for the review would come from the town’s contingency account. He said it’s difficult to say at this point what the total project costs might be.

Even if the scope of work is clearly outlined, “There are hidden costs when you start doing renovations of old buildings,” Berkowitz said.

Second polling place needed?

Another issue of concern was whether Bridgton needs a second polling location. Selectman Doug Taft said he heard from residents who were upset by the lack of parking and long lines at Town Hall on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Berkowitz said Town Clerk Laurie Chadbourne will be preparing a logistics report to allow the board to evaluate whether a second polling location is warranted. Taft said he realized a decision wasn’t needed until sometime before the next Presidential election, but that he wanted residents to know their concerns had been heard. He noted that the town would need to buy a second voting machine to service a second polling location, and that such machines are expensive.

Bridgton has around 4,000 registered voters, out of a total population of around 5,200 people. “There’s got to be another way we can move the lines along,” said Berkowitz.

Among other issues on the board’s radar is the status of a Local Housing Preference Ordinance. With Avesta Housing, Inc.’s decision not to pursue a 24-unit apartment complex on Main Street, in the wake of the Nov. 6 failed Shoreland Zoning amendment, the question was raised of whether the town still needed to pursue rules that would give Bridgton residents first dibs on new affordable housing opportunities.

“I still see it as a need,” Taft said. Others weren’t so sure. Bridgton would be setting a legal precedent with such an ordinance, since no municipality currently imposes such a restriction.

The Community Development Committee had offered to draft the ordinance, but the board has not yet heard back from them on their progress.

Selectman also are tracking leftover recommendations regarding the Salmon Point Campground, capital improvement program priorities to be included in the upcoming 2014 budget, and a penalty policy for Shoreland Zoning violations.


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