The concept plan for Windham’s future community center. Courtesy of Harriman

WINDHAM — While Windham Town Councilors signaled their support for an ambitious community center concept plan, the building’s proposed location was a sticking point.

The so-called Morrell property is a 24-acre parcel adjacent to Smith Cemetery just south of the 302/202 rotary. The town purchased the land in 2005 for $400,000. At the time, one future use mentioned for the land was an expansion of a cemetery. The site has also recently been tapped as the location for a new community center.

It seems like the $35 million price tag isn’t the biggest elephant in the room, it’s the property,” said Councilor Jarrod Maxfield, who supported building the project on the Morrell site, during a workshop Tuesday.

Three public forums have been held in the past year to gather community feedback on the project.

The concept plan includes two multipurpose rooms and a kitchen area, a three-court gymnasium, raised walking track, locker rooms, childcare area, two wellness spaces, a hybrid pool, administrative offices and a conference room. The building would be about 70,000 square feet and two stories tall.

The next step, said Community Center Committee member Pat Moody, is looking at how the facility will be managed and funded: “How does it sustain itself? Where is the revenue coming from? We need to understand where we’re going to get the money to pay for this obviously and also the operational cost.”

Some councilors expressed concerns about the amount of glass that is featured in the building, worrying that it would present a heating issue.

Councilor Donna Chapman encouraged the committee to not focus on the Morrell property. The site has approximately 8-10 acres of wetlands, and she was concerned there would not be enough room for both the cemetery expansion and the community center.

That’s a little bit concerning. It may end up that’s not the right site because of the wetlands,” she said. 

Moody explained that the committee found it to be the most suitable property that is centrally located and owned by the town.

Maybe if somebody wanted the community center named after them, they would gladly donate some land for it in the general vicinity,” Chapman added. 

Council Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Cummings also disliked the location because she believed that the increase in traffic on the nearby rotary would make driving in the area “a nightmare.”

Resident Liz Wisecup speaks during public comment in support of expanding the Smith Cemetery. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

The council asked the committee for more hard numbers regarding the costs of building and its maintenance as well as revenues and operating costs. The committee will come back before the council to receive a new charge and continue to move forward.

Consultant Mark Hampton said there are forested, wet meadow and cat tail wetlands on the parcel, and the latter are greater than half an acre in size, marking them as emergent vegetation and making them a wetland of special significance in the eyes of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

If the town were to impact, or fill, over 15,000 square feet of the wetlands of special significance, it would have to pay the DEP a fee in lieu of approximately $350,000.

Hampton added that “we could put a retaining wall right up to the zero edge of the wetland as long as we don’t impact it.”

He estimated that the 24-acre site had approximately 8-10 acres of wetlands, and the community center with parking would take up about four acres.

“I think this site has the potential for development,” Hampton said. “I think there’s room for the expansion of the cemetery and for this building to occur on this property as well.”

Resident Liz Wisecup spoke about the importance of a larger cemetery, saying, “my first concern is expansion of the cemetery.”

Michael Manning also spoke and urged the council to continue to move forward with the creation of the community center.

While both the center and expanded cemetery are important, he said, the town is always “look for positive outlets for young people.”

We need this community center. We need something that’s a safe place for our children. Whether it’s some other location, we need to stick to the timeline and advance the process,” he said. 

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