Fate of vacant Casco Memorial building depends on costs
By Dawn De Busk
CASCO — Inching closer to a plausible solution for the Casco Memorial School, elected public officials requested the cost estimates — if the building was to be used for fire training purposes.
According to Town Manager Dave Morton, the plan is to acquire, in the next couple of months, the cost estimates associated with disposing of the building, and with fixing the roof.
Those expense estimates will include getting rid of asbestos and other materials that are hazardous when airborne. That job will have to be done prior to allowing the Casco Fire Department to use the school as a training facility, he said.
Turning over the structure to the fire department is one of the options that will come before the Casco Board of Selectmen.
At the Town Meeting in June, the residents voted to give to the seated selectmen the power to decide what to do with the school, which has been vacant for three years and covered with a tarp for two winters.
If the board decides to dispose of the building by allowing it to be used for fire training purposes, the town must spend money to remove asbestos.
According to Casco Fire Chief Jason Moen, it is necessary to remove any asbestos before utilizing the building in this manner.
“Even if the building were demolished, it would have to be abated first. There are very strict guidelines by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) before a building can be destroyed,” he said.
If that plan is approved by the board, it won’t be a short-term relationship between the Memorial School and area fire personnel, he said.
“We would look to get a solid year of training out of it,” Moen said.
He added “unless we were directed by the board to move up our schedule.”
“Typically, with a building of that size, there are a lot of types of training we could do,” he said.
“We would construct some burn rooms, and do different types of training such as practicing forceful entry, search and rescue, ventilation, live fire training, and Airpack unit training drills,” Moen said.
During a workshop on Sept. 24, Casco’s selectmen discussed both the Memorial School and the vacant bank building located in the Village. At that time, an old topic arose with a new suggestion. Board members talked about the idea of using the former TD Bank building to house the Code Enforcement and Assessor’s offices, while the remaining town staff would stay at the current offices.
But, that solution to a cramped town office also comes at a cost.
Two weeks after that workshop, Chairman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes said not until the firm hired to do cost estimates has a complete list of figures will the issues of the school disposal and moving some town offices appear on the agenda.
“We are waiting on concrete costs. We haven’t voted upon anything yet. We want the concrete figures first, before we make a decision,” Fernandes said.
“It is all about costs,” she said.
During the Sept. 24 meeting, Selectman Grant Plummer was the first to ask for updated estimates attached to options for the school.
“I am feeling like there are still a few pieces I don’t have a handle on to make decision on disposition of Memorial School Building,” he said.
“I feel like there are other costs involved: site reclaim costs, the handling and removal of asbestos,” Grant said.
Morton clarified to the board that the town never requested disposal costs — because that had not been an avenue the board had been considering. Even ranges for fixing the roof had been put on hold two years ago.
The structure was formerly used as offices for the School Administrative District (SAD) No. 61, but was handed back to the town during the school consolidation process.
Another plan that emerged from the September workshop was a five-year plan for the school property as well as dealing with cramped quarters at the town office.
A poll conducted several years ago named the school as the preferred site for overflowing the town office, but that was a non-binding vote.
A surveys this spring, as well as a local referendum in 2011, indicated that more than two-thirds of the community was not willing to spend $250,000 to either repair or rebuild the school structure.
“If the taxpayers don’t want to spend another dime, I am listening,” Ferandes said.
One option is to demolish the building and rebuild on the school lot several years from now. If the town set up a capital reserve fund and socked away a little bit of money each fiscal year, then something like a five-year plan is doable, Fernandez said.
Selectman Ray Grant favored saving the building.
“I have remodeled and gutted out three homes. One was half-hewn logs. The one in Naples — I paid less, fixed it up and sold it for more. So, it can be done,” he said.
“There is value in old buildings,” he said.
Grant disagreed with the idea of using the empty bank building, which is owned by the town, to set up an office for the code enforcement and assessor’s departments.
He said the school was the most suitable space.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the building. If it’s good enough for the cats, it’s good enough for the Town of Casco employees,” Grant said.
In the late summer, the school building was used as an emergency shelter for displaced cats.
Vacant space could house CEO, assessor
When Casco Town Manager Dave Morton was asked if extra space was truly needed for the town office, his answer was an emphatic, ‘Yes.’
“We are bursting at the seams. We are carting around files just to move. We have stacks and stacks of files,” he said.
“We have no meeting space. The place that serves as the place for employees to have lunch is also a meeting room, where we can cram four or five people. We have to plan around unexpected needs. If community members want to look at records — that is where it has to happen — at the meeting table,” Morton said.
At a recent Casco Board of Selectmen workshop, the idea was suggested to utilize a vacant town-owned building.
However, the former bank building that is situated near the Casco Community Center in the Village would not be the new town office. It would house only the departments of Code Enforcement and Assessing.
“The idea of splitting staff: We can communicate with phones and intercoms,” Morton said.
“Once you have folks in this building, you would need a full-time employee to meet and greet customers,” he said.
“I am not arguing that it won’t work. It will require putting a clerical person in the office so when the code enforcement officer is out in the field, people have access to information,” he said.
“We would have to duplicate costs,” Morton said.
Selectman Ray Grant said he did not like the additional costs associated with the plan, but also the move would do little to remedy the situation.
“My concern with the bank building is parking. If we added on, we don’t have room for expansion. That is another building that is going to be vacant and useless in a few years,” Grant said.
“There is no room for expansion unless you took over parking for the library,” he said.
“If we had another acre or five acres, it would make sense,” he said.
“I don’t want to spend X number of thousands of dollars, and not get a solution,” Grant said.
Selectman Tracy Kimball opted to envision as a short-term solution the moving of two town departments into the former TD Bank building.
“That would give staff an immediate space while the town decides when to spend money” on possibly remodeling the Memorial School or rebuilding on that property after the school is disposed of, Kimball said.
“We should consider the bank building for the immediate needs while we continue to work on a five-year plan,” she said.
Selectman Paul Edes was agreeable to the concept, too.
“The bank building would stay in better shape with staff in it,” Edes said.
Morton recommended that the board design such a plan into the budget for the next fiscal year — once the board receives cost estimates for the move, start-up costs, and additional staffing at the building