March 12, 2010

Kennebunk voters weigh fate of school


— By . KIM

Staff Writer

Kennebunk residents will decide on the fate of the former Park Street School at a special town meeting Saturday.

Voters will be asked if they want to borrow up to $1.4 million to make the property suitable for municipal uses and for lease to unspecified non-profit organizations. Voters also will determine whether the town should spend up to $55,000 in operating costs for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Approval of the measure would nullify the town's agreement with Avesta Housing, a non-profit organization with a $8.1 million plan to turn the property into 30 units of affordable senior housing. In October, the Board of Selectmen approved selling the property for $300,000, but the deal has been on hold because of a citizen petition that prompted the special town meeting.

A separate warrant article asks voters if they want to reimburse Avesta up to $60,000 for cost incurred if the purchase-and-sale agreement is terminated.

Ordinance changes and matters related to an access road also will be decided Saturday.

The town meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the gym of Kennebunk High School.

Supporters of the Park Street School proposal say the property should be used for town and community purposes -- a preference voters expressed by a vote of 1,485 to 805 in a 2006 non-binding referendum. A year later, voters by a vote of 1,014 to 796 rejected a $2.7 million bond proposal to renovate the property for those uses.

John Costin, a resident involved in the citizen initiative, said the downtown property is too valuable an asset to sell. He said the current renovation proposal is affordable and would better serve a wider swath of the community.

''What we visualize for that building is a way to serve all of the seniors, all of the kids, all of the families in town rather than saying it's a lottery and only 30 families will get served,'' he said.

The total estimated debt service for the project is $2.12 million. Estimated interest over the 20-year term would be $720,446, assuming an interest rate of 4.5 percent. According to the town, the mil rate would increase 10 cents and a home valued at $285,000 would see an additional $17 on its property tax bill.

But selectmen said in an open letter to voters that the estimates were made when interest rates were lower and that municipal bond rates ranged between 5 percent and 5.5 percent as of Jan. 9.

Selectmen do not support the warrant article. They questioned whether the town should take on such debt now, whether there will be additional improvement costs beyond the basic renovation covered by the $1.4 million, whether it was wise to commit $55,000 in surplus to the building's operations and whether lease revenues from non-profit organizations will materialize.

Several warrant articles deal with an access road to relieve traffic on Route 1. Those include borrowing up to $400,000 for various road improvements, including those around Route 1. Total debt service is estimated at $528,681. Interest over 15 years is estimated at $128,681, based on a rate of 4.5 percent.

The total cost of the access road is estimated at $800,000, with $400,000 covered by a federal matching grant, according to Town Manager Barry Tibbetts. The developer of Shape Drive Medical Center has contributed $75,000, he said.

One article authorizes the taking by eminent domain of Miksu Petland in Shoppers Village. That item was placed on the article in case a tentative agreement to provide $17,000 to the store owner, Wayne Gibbs, falls apart, according to Wayne Berry, chairman of the selectmen.

An article about the zoning ordinance clarified standards for docks, wharves and piers, provides criteria for Planning Board review and allows shared use between two lots, Tibbetts said.

Another article deals with technical changes to the floodplain management ordinance to conform to state and national standards.

Staff writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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