Town Hall: What does the future hold?

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Old, yet still very useful is one way to describe Bridgton’s Town Hall.

Between youth sports practices, table tennis, exercise classes and special events, the facility is used by some 200 to 300 people a week.

The building, however, is in serious need of structural improvement. How much will it cost to “stabilize” the old hall is unknown.

“It’s been on and off our radar for over two years,” Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz told selectmen Tuesday night. “I think it is time we hold a workshop to gain a better understanding as to what the hall’s priority is to this community.”

An engineering study conducted two to three years ago identified problems with the building’s underpinning. Some “educated guesses” placed costs to repair the structure between $400,000 to $700,000.

“We need to ask the threshold question, ‘What do we want to do with this building?’ Is it a priority and if it is, what can we do?” Berkowitz said.

At this point, there is no danger that the hall might collapse, Berkowitz said, but some short-term work is needed to stabilize the facility. While the upper structure (ceiling) is “almost as good as the day it was built,” there has been some “sinking” in the southwest corner of the hall.

“You can see some separation of the molding and floor,” he said.

Bill Vincent recommended that selectmen seek “real” estimates so concrete choices can be presented to taxpayers as to whether to keep the hall for town use or restore it as a historical building. Once costs are known, Vincent pointed out the town could seek grants to pay for restoration efforts rather than rely solely on local tax dollars.

Ken Murphy inquired whether the building is on the National Register of Historic Places? Berkowitz responded, “Not yet.”

Selectmen plan to discuss what direction the town should take and how to fund improvements at an Oct. 16 workshop to be held in the Municipal Complex lower level at 6 p.m.

Mike Tarantino suggested the time might be right to take a broader look at the building’s future use. Chuck Renneker concurred that maybe the town should consider possibly building a new facility to address recreational needs.

“I’ve refereed basketball games there, and with 10 adults on the floor at one time, it is crazy. It should almost be limited to 3-on-3,” Tarantino said. “And for spectators, it’s not the greatest place in the world.”

Despite its “quirkiness,” Rec Director Tom Tash says the old town hall is a “great asset” and a “loved facility” by those who frequently use it.

“There is a lot of respect for this building,” Tash said. “It’s not ideal for everything, but it does provide a space to a lot of groups.”

Tash said if the town decided to construct a new recreation facility, he would talk with school officials to carve out gym time for programs currently using the town hall during that building period.

 

 

 

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