Casco residents decided to renovate the Casco Community Center and convert the Casco Memorial School into new town offices at the June 11 town meeting – but not after some contentious debate.

Residents discussed at length two of the three building project proposals placed on the ballot by citizens groups. The more than $2.76 million proposed budget, a 1.3 percent increase from the previous year, eventually passed without changes.

Kevin Hancock spoke as the representative for an item he and others placed on the warrant with a citizens petition, which proposed spending no more than $750,000 to complete the minimum repairs necessary to re-open the community center to residents.

“That building is not going to fall down and is not going away,” Hancock said, adding that engineers estimated a $250,000 cost for tearing down the building.

The scope of the work Hancock proposed would include replacing the roof and roof trusses in the gym, straightening the side wall, supporting the back wall, laying beams under the gym floor, remodeling the town office, putting in new flooring and bathrooms, installing a new heating system and removing and mitigating all existing mold.

Several residents said they supported fixing the building to maintain the historic village in Casco.

“It’s the only real village center we have left in the town of Casco,” said Pat Troy.

Opponents to the plan questioned whether the price quoted would be adequate to fix up the building, as well as whether the building was the best option for town offices.

The article passed, 65-54.

The second petitioned article asked the town to accept the Casco Memorial School from School Administrative District 61 and use the building for town offices. Town Manager Dave Morton clarified that the town still needs to vote to allow SAD 61 to close the school. The article passed without a count.

Wayne Ward, who requested a separate article to allow the town to borrow up to $175,000 for the improvement of Casco Memorial School for town offices, disagreed with the wording of this article.

“I’m really, really upset right now,” Ward said. “It’s illegal. You’re changing a citizen’s petition.”

Ward’s wording required that Turcotte Construction Inc. complete the work to renovate the school and that residents vote for the article on paper instead of by voice or show of hands. The article on the warrant did not specify a contractor.

Morton disagreed with Ward on the legality of the wording, saying the article was not actually a citizen’s petition because Ward did not submit signatures.

A series of motions were made to change the wording of the article, with the final wording similar to the original, allowing selectmen to borrow up to $175,000 but without identifying a specific construction company.

A proposal also submitted by Ward to construct a new, $980,000 recreational facility to be located on the property of the Casco Memorial School was tabled.

At the end of the meeting, residents passed the budget as proposed, though several residents advocated for reducing items, citing a tough economy and the need to keep taxes low. The two largest items on the budget were more than $754,000 for administration and almost $632,000 for streets and highways.

Michael D’Ascanio advocated for the town to stop plowing private roads, which inspired several residents to speak up for and against this 30-year-old practice. One new resident said he would not have moved to town if he thought he would have to plow his own road.

Morton said the town plows 55 miles of road, with 14 of those miles on private roads. He said it would be difficult to separate out the costs for different categories of roads. The article, which authorized the plowing and sanding of private roads, passed.

Several residents requested a decrease in the capital improvements budget, first to remove the $30,000 land acquisition and easement item and then to reduce the total amount on all items included in the article by 15 percent. Neither amendment passed.

At the very end, after at least half the attendees had left, D’Ascanio attempted to recall the article to repair the Casco Community Center.

Moderator Holly Hancock denied his request because D’Ascanio did not vote on the prevailing side. The meeting ended with raised voices from D’Ascanio and resident Michael Wood while the remaining audience members packed up their chairs.

Casco resident Wayne Ward, who submitted proposals to convert the Casco Memorial School into new town offices and build a new $980,000 recreational facility, spoke against repairing the Casco Community Center during the annual town meeting June 11.

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