Cupola causes controversy; coordinator sought

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — For every resident who passionately supports saving the cupola and moving it to a spot where it can be enjoyed by the general public, there are at least two residents who adamantly oppose using tax dollars to accomplish this. That is according to Naples Chairman Jim Grattelo and Selectman Bob Caron II.

“For every single person who wants to move it, there are two people who will vote us out of office for spending taxpayers’ money on this,” Grattelo said, adding “It is not as popular as you think.”

The chairman said the board might be willing to match the community’s fundraising efforts, setting aside “$10,000 or less” in the town budget for this project.

Caron, too, has been listening to the wishes of Naples residents.

“I have heard pros and cons from people who are in favor of it and others who say, ‘Don’t spend a dime of my money,’ ” Caron said.

“We have two factions of people,” he said.

One group supports saving the cupola no matter the cost and another group would prefer to see the numbers before it gets moved, Caron said.

In an effort to calculate the costs and formulate a plan for relocating the historical cupola, the Naples Board of Selectmen is seeking a volunteer to head up a committee.

Emotions accompanied some of the words spoken during a half-hour long discussion about the cupola, which in recent weeks has become a hot-button topic on the group Facebook page, Remembering Naples, Maine.

Once upon a time, during a decade that people can still remember, two cupolas sat like jeweled crowns on the roof of the Bay of Naples Inn.

Before the Inn was demolished, one of the cupolas was moved to the Bay of Naples Campground. For many years thereafter, it served to occupy children who explored the cupola that had been integrated into the campground’s playground.

After the campground closed, its owners, the Ruhlan family donated the cupola to the Town of Naples. This was an official act with then-Town Manager Derek Goodine accepting the gift on the behalf of the town.

Thus far, a plan has not panned out to relocate the cupola to public land.

Now, the clock is ticking.

On Monday, the selectmen requested that someone in the community volunteer to head a committee to nail down a plan for the cupola’s future.

“We are publically asking someone to step forward to chair a committee,” Chairman Grattelo said. “The next meeting (Jan. 22) is the last time. We are not kicking the can to the side of the road.”

Vice-chair Kevin Rogers agreed that any forward movement could wait for another two weeks.

“Let us see if anyone is going to chair a committee. Give it a couple weeks to see if this pulse” stays strong, Rogers said.

The selectmen voted unanimously to revisit the topic on Jan. 22, with the hope that “a person will step forward to head a committee and that the committee will explore all costs and the strategy to get from Point A to Point B.”

As part of its motion, the board decided that if there is the leadership and enough volunteers to form a cupola committee, the board will consider an acceptable plan and budget some portion of the expenses.

The cupola is caught up in a couple Catch-22’s — as pointed out by board members. The campground property was sold and the new owner would like it removed in the spring or early summer. However, in order for Naples to fund any portion of the cupola’s relocation, restoration and maintenance, it must be approved at the annual town meeting in June. Therefore, the timelines are cutting it close.

Secondly, although many people agree the cupola should be moved, the best location had yet to be decided upon by a majority of the community. The cupola cannot be moved until a suitable spot has been designated. However, despite the fact that moving an object of this size is daunting, the concept of getting it to a temporary location for the time being was presented at Monday’s meeting.

The sale of the land where the cupola currently sits certainly put the future of the structure back in the hot seat.

Jamie Ruhlan, the former owner of the Bay of Naples Campground, which is located off Route 114, said the cupola was not included in the land sale.

The new owner asked him “How much more time should I give the town? By the summer, he wants to sell the property. There is a lot toward the water (Brandy Pond) that is currently on the market,” Ruhlin said. “He likes to move fast. He is not from around here. He won’t have a lot of patience.”

“We are hoping it could be on display for everyone in the town,” Ruhlan said.

Selectman Jim Turpin said TIF funding could be used if the cupola stimulated commerce.

“If we should follow the plan and get the cupola out in front of everyone, the money is going to flow,” Turpin said.

Another factor that has placed it back in the limelight is a plan of action put forward by seasonal resident Jon March.

Via the Facebook page, March suggested dismantling the cupola at its seams and transporting the three smaller pieces. This approach would eliminate the need to lift utility wires, which is reportedly a big expense.

March has solicited and got pledges of in-kind work to lower the project’s expenses.

Naples Historical Society President Merry Watson said the Dana Watson could negotiate with the utility companies to reduce the cost just as he had when the Bridgton Museum was moved.

March and Watson had differing ideas on where to relocate the cupola. Watson prefers having it placed near the Naples Museum, making maintenance easier. March had mentioned a spot near the scenic vista on the east side of the Bob Neault Memorial Bridge.

Rogers, who has been an outspoken advocate of saving the cupola, had the floor.

“I will kick and scream all the way to the end of this conservation” of the cupola, he said. “We need a plan. Where should it go? The Village Green?”

“All we need is to get together,” he said.

Caron said, “A few years ago, I had it flagged out at Kent’s Landing. I put some leg work into it. Then, it went by the wayside again.”

“This is such a hot topic. Let the townspeople vote on it,” he said.

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