Town Hall RFP rekindles rec program damage debate

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen on Tuesday awarded low bidder Casco Engineering the contract to begin a long-awaited analysis of the structural integrity of the Old Town Hall. The review, which will cost $11,872, is seen as a first step toward an eventual town-wide vote on making needed repairs to the historic North High Street building.

Discussion followed the vote on the need to be clear about what kinds of activities will be allowed in the hall in the future. Currently, over a dozen of the town’s recreational programs are held there, and some of the programs, such as baseball, softball and basketball, involve high-impact sports.

“The firm needs to know whether we expect we’ll be bouncing balls on that floor for the next 50 years,” or whether its use will be confined to more sedate uses limited to town elections and other non-recreational uses, said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz. “We’d be wise to have a conversation before we meet with Casco (Engineering).”

Resident Bill Vincent disagreed, saying Berkowitz’s approach amounted to putting “the cart before the horse.” He said it made sense for the engineers to perform its review and then have selectmen and others look into the question of use.

Comprehensive Plan Committee member Chuck Renneker also noted the need to receive recommendations from his committee about the future of Town Hall under its ongoing update of the Comprehensive Plan. There is some thinking that most of Bridgton’s public facilities are too small, Renneker said, and that perhaps the town should begin to plan for a new, larger building.

Selectman Bob McHatton asked Public Works Director Jim Kidder about what damage is being done to the inside of the hall currently from its use as a warm-up space for spring softball and baseball programs.

Kidder said 18 ceiling tiles had holes knocked in them by baseballs, and when workers went about replacing the tiles, “baseballs fell out of the ceiling.” In addition, fans were being dented and knocked out of kilter.

“If you’re not going to play baseball in your own living room, why should you allow it in Town Hall?” Kidder said.

Selectman Doug Taft said he didn’t have a problem with discontinuing baseball and softball practices in Town Hall. But basketball is a different story. “I have a lot of memories…“

Kidder said one simple solution for limiting further damage would be to install netting on the ceiling. If the town ever decides to remove the subceiling in order to expose the underlying tin ceiling above, such a precaution would be even more necessary.

Selectman Chairman Paul Hoyt said that regardless of whatever level of repair the town agrees upon, “I don’t think anything we do up there is going to be cheap.”

New Literacy Initiative

Selectmen gave conditional approval to plans by a new organization called the Bridgton Literary Task Force to work with children and their families at town beaches this summer.

The vote was conditional on ensuring that any task force member planning to talk to a child on town-owned land be screened through a background check and that they wear laminated photo ID badges on a lanyard at all times.

Board Chairman Paul Hoyt said it was unfortunate that the need for such precautions exists, but that the public might well question the notion of any adult stranger wanting to approach and interact with a child.

Task Force member George Bradt said the nonprofit organization seeks to involve families as a whole, and not only children. The initial idea is to reach families with children up to age eight where they live and engage in recreation, in order to get children reading by the time they enter school.

Eventually, the task force wants to become involved in improving literacy for all Bridgton’s residents. This summer, its members want to read to children at Woods Pond, Highland Lake and Salmon Point beaches, and distribute free, age-appropriate books.

Among the task force members are Bill and Pam Brucker, retired elementary teachers from Connecticut, who have recently relocated to Bridgton. Bill Brucker said the group’s intentions would be made clear to the public by the use of a beach umbrella imprinted with their name.

Bradt said the task force is still in the early stages of organization, and will also be working with the school system and other community organizations.

Bear sighting

In other discussions at Tuesday’s meeting, Selectman Bernie King reported that a “big” black bear was seen coming out of Pondicherry Park onto the Willett Road by a passing motorist Saturday night.

“So I just wanted to let people know, they are real, and if anyone comes upon them, do not run,” King said.

Fellow Selectman Doug Taft wasn’t surprised by the sighting. “We’ve had sightings of bears for eight years now. I don’t think he’s a resident,” but rather is just passing through, Taft said. He recalled a bear sighting during the tenure of former Police Chief Dave Lyons that led to the temporary closure of Stevens Brook Elementary School, which abuts the 60-acre park.

Fireworks breakfast

Taft wanted it known that local Masons are doing their part to raise funds for this year’s fireworks display on July 3 by holding a Pancake Breakfast on Wednesday, June 22, at the Masonic Hall on Route 117. Whatever is raised by the $7 cost of the breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs is matched equally by the Masons, he noted.

Ethics Code change

Selectmen agreed to amend the town’s Code of Ethics to make it clear that all town boards and committee members — and not only elected officials — are bound to abide by the code’s standards for proper conduct when acting in service to the town. Selectman Woody Woodward said the code already makes that clear, but went along with the 5–0 vote.

 

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