Julie Wilkes, director of the Brio Dance Studio, leads a group of children through a routine at the Wescustogo Hall & Community Center. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

NORTH YARMOUTH — Dixie Hayes taught at North Yarmouth Memorial School from 1986 until its 2014 closure. She watched the town wrangle with two issues: how to replace Wescustogo Hall, which fire destroyed in 2013, and what to do with the vacant school.

The Wescustogo Hall & Community Center – a new building connected to the pared-down and renovated school building at 120 Memorial Highway (Route 9) – opened last November. And Hayes is among residents of North Yarmouth and surrounding towns who are getting plenty of use out of the new community hub.

“So far, it’s everything I hoped it would be,” she said. That morning, she had been there for cribbage. The day before, for a tea gathering. That weekend, for a baby shower in a room rented for the event.

“I just think it’s a wonderful way to get people in town together,” Hayes said. “I have met so many new people since this building opened.”

Her only concern? That the center didn’t yet have a custodian, and the work was falling onto its director, Lisa Thompson – the nearly 20,000-square-foot facility’s busy sole employee.

“We just haven’t been able to hire anyone; there’s just nobody out there,” Thompson said as she walked the former school’s hallway.

Wearing many proverbial hats – custodian, building and gym supervisor, booking agent – she hopes the town will include in its fiscal year 2021 budget a part-time person to help her with building coverage and supervision. Being “a party of one,” she said, she’s had to turn away some rental requests that would require multiple staff.

“I’ve had to say ‘wait until next year,'” Thompson said. “I don’t want to take their requests and not be able to accommodate them. And also overload the facility to the point where we’re not able to maintain it.”

Wescustogo draws at least 200 people a week who attend activities such as nighttime basketball and fitness classes, which are both put on by the Cumberland/North Yarmouth Community Recreation Department. Adult open gym will start in March and the Maine Antiques Dealers Association plans to hold two shows there in the next two years.

Melissa Richter of Cumberland sat in the lobby connecting the former school with Wescustogo, where her 7-year-old daughter Kaitlyn was attending a dance class. Her sons play basketball there.

“We love this building,” she said, adding her family has regularly attended activities there since it opened; they had missed the community space the original Wescustogo offered.

A book-sharing room, located off the center’s community room, opened this week. Organized by residents Jeanne Chadbourne and Donna Palmer, the cozy nook has bookshelves, furniture and a children’s play area, and allows people to take gently used books for free – with the hope, too, that they’ll bring in their own books to replenish the supply.

“It’s like a little free library,” Thompson said.

Lisa Thompson, director of the Wescustogo Hall & Community Center, shows off the facility’s soon-to-open community book sharing room. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

She’s looking for volunteers to supervise in the room and can be reached at 829-5555 and [email protected]. Donated books can be dropped off every Saturday from 9-11 a.m.

A schedule can be found at northyarmouth.org/wescustogo-hall-community-center.

Senior walks around the gym started with four people and has grown to 15 each day.

“It’s become very social for them,” Thompson said. “They end up running into the same people and their neighbors, and they’re making connections.”

The center has almost reached capacity in terms of being fully booked.

“I’m getting requests every day for rentals,” Thompson said. The Yarmouth Fire-Rescue Department is interested in space for its annual dinner, and she gets calls about birthday parties, baby and bridal showers; graduation party requests may soon be coming, too.

“This is how it happens,” she said. “People come in the building; they’re like, ‘this place is great! I want to rent this place!'”

As usage grows, so should revenue at the facility, for which voters in June 2018 narrowly approved a $3.4 million bond. Wescustogo brought in about $1,800 in December, “but that was from zero in November,” Thompson said. “Those numbers are slowly going up. … I do have high hopes for this to generate a lot of money; I don’t see why it wouldn’t.”

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