Casco Budget Committee seeks feedback on Grange Hall

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — There was a time when Casco Town Manager Dave Morton had to light a fire in the woodstove of the Casco Grange Hall well before a meeting was to take place there. After all, it took some time to warm up the building.

That was a few decades ago, in the late ‘70s through about 1991, he said.

Currently, there are two heating systems — both of which are in need of major repairs or of being replaced with one more energy-efficient heat source.

And, the Casco Grange Hall may very well be the source of some heated (or at least heartfelt) discussion in this community.

After reviewing a list of costly upgrades to the hall, the Casco Finance Committee wants some feedback on what to do with the Grange.

That conversation landed on the table of the Casco Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night. This is the second time this month that the Grange Hall has been food for thought at the selectmen’s table.

“The question for us as a community is: Does the community want to continue to invest in this building given its limited use,” Morton asked on Tuesday.

The limited use is for a very valuable program, Casco Head Start, which is administered by Opportunity Alliance, Morton said. There might not be another site in Casco suitable for this pre-school and day care program, he said.

“The Finance Committee was reluctant to take any action. I am not sure whether it is a selectmen’s issue, a community issue, or a Town Meeting issue,” Morton said.

The board did decide on a tentative date of April 26 for a public hearing on the Grange Hall.

In 1978, the debate of citizens concluded it worthwhile to save the building, Morton said.

“Since 1978, the issues about handicapped access have come into play. The town cannot use the building for the public because it is not” approved by the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Morton said. It would cost between $75,000 and $100,000 to install a lift inside the building, he said.

“We need to settle on one heating system, instead of two,” he said.

But, the upgrades don’t stop there.

“The electrical system needs to be upgraded. The plumbing needs to be replaced. The exterior siding and the finish needs to be replaced. The front porch needs substantial work,” Morton said.

“In 2014, we discovered rot in the northern wall and spent $5,000 in that one area. If it was in one area, chances are we will find it in others,” he said.

“It has a metal roof. We have had to renail it. It needs to be done again. It may not be the metal roof, it might be the boards underneath,” he said.

The property is problematic because the well and septic system are located on land owned by someone else. Parking is also permitted on another piece of property. Even the small playground is located on a separate lot. After all, the footprint of the building only leaves about three feet of property with which to work.

As mentioned by the board, the options are 1.) To budget the cost of major repairs for the Grange Hall and to also allocate funding for continued maintenance, 2.) To sell the property, possibly to an abutter, with agreements regarding the well-septic in the deed, or 3.) To remove or to relocate the building.

The individual selectmen did not express any strong opinions on the future of the Grange Hall. They did express concerns about hidden costs of repairs, or the need for another septic system if the building were revamped and received more public use. Most of the board simply said it should be a conversation for the community.

“I would love to see it stay in the Village,” Selectman Grant Plummer said, adding that the taxpayers might not be willing to spend an enormous amount of money.

“How about a public hearing,” Chairman Holly Hancock asked the board.

“I spoke to one person who has history in the family. A public hearing would be an opportunity for people to weigh in on it,” Hancock said.

Selectman Mary Fernandes agreed.

“That’s a great idea to invite the public. They had their say in 1978, let us see what they have to say today in 2016,” she said.

For more information about the cost estimates on repairs to the Casco Grange Hall, please look at the Town of Casco website under Board of Selectmen’s documents for the Feb. 23 meeting.

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