Opinions heard on Otisfield Community Hall

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OTISFIELD — About 50 residents agreed Wednesday evening that the town should have a community hall, but there were differing opinions about whether the current building should be repaired.

The public hearing was held to gather input regarding the Otisfield Community Hall on Route 121. A study by Fish Street Design of Fryeburg and The H.L. Turner Group of Concord, N.H., determined that it will cost the town $329,518 to make necessary upgrades to the structure. In the analysis of the cost estimates, local contractors Rick Micklon and Ken Bartow said a full upgrade is likely to cost $300,000 to $370,000.

Micklon, who is also a selectman, said the Board of Selectmen has the authority to begin some repairs, such as electrical work. He said the board wanted to go before the town to get feedback rather than start piecemeal work.

“We don’t want to do something now only to have people say, ‘That was a waste of money,’” Micklon said.

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The building assessment says that the hall could be moved back farther from the highway and sit on a foundation to allow greater stability and access. It also recommends bringing the building up to code to meet floor and roof load-bearing requirements; the replacement of windows, shingles and siding; the addition of insulation to allow four-season use; and upgrades to the kitchen.

Chairman Hal Ferguson said that any questions that would go on the annual town meeting warrant for June would not include the appropriation of funds. He said possible questions could include whether the town supports having a community hall and whether residents prefer fixing the old structure or building a new one. A straw poll at the hearing strongly supported having a community hall in town.

However, residents also raised concerns about the safety of the building and cost of repairs. Resident Jean Hankins said she didn’t oppose preserving the old building, but would not want to spend more on doing that if it would cost less to build a new hall.

Selectman Lenny Adler said the building is periodically inspected by the Department of Labor, and some maintenance has been done to keep it in usable condition. He said some issues, such as a springy floor, have been around for many years and not caused substantial problems.

“To absolutely say that building is 100 percent safe, I cannot do that,” he said. “But I can’t do that for a brand new building either.”

Other residents questioned whether potential upgrades to the town office, which has had mold issues, and fire stations would put a heavy financial burden on the town. It was also proposed that a study could be done to see if it would be preferable to locate a community hall in a different spot than the Route 121 location.

Resident Bob Tracy said he has memories of events at the hall, including his own wedding reception, but did not consider the structure to have any sentimental value. He also said that he believes the building was poorly constructed and that it is not in an ideal location. He suggested that the town look into the costs for demolishing the building as well.

“I don’t think it has any redeeming features,” he said.

Mickey Noble, who lives near the hall, disagreed. He said the town could make money off the building if it is well-maintained and that it could provide a suitable location for community gatherings with large numbers of people.

“It was intended to be a community hall, and by golly that’s not a bad idea,” Noble said.

Town Clerk Sharon Matthews said there is the possibility of the town getting grants to go toward renovations. Adler said the combined interest in two available trust funds is about $79,000.

The hall was built in the 1920s and has hosted a number of community events, including dances and town meetings.

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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