SCARBOROUGH — In a 5-2 vote, the Scarborough Town Council approved using the Land Bond Acquisition Fund to purchase property located at 649 U.S. Route 1, the total amount not to exceed $398,000, including maintenance.

The building, a former Masonic temple, sits next to the Dunstan Fire Station and the Scarborough Historic Society. The building needs some immediate renovations, said Town Manager Tom Hall in a previous meeting.

Councilors in favor of the purchase discussed the importance of historic preservation.

The Historic Preservation Committee is in favor of the town preserving the building, said Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina, who is a committee liaison, said.

“Most people don’t realize the history of this building,” she said. “Again, it’s the early grange movement. For people who may not be familiar, the grange movement was basically when the agricultural communities throughout the United States got together for community good to support farmers. This was one of the earliest grange buildings if not the first in the state of Maine.”

If the property didn’t have the historic aspect, the town would not be looking at the purchase, Councilor John Cloutier said.

“Primarily, the way I look at it is to preserve the building,” he said.  “I think your history is really important, almost sacred, and you never get the chance to protect it again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We’ve been doing so much redevelopment in town that I think some of the few older structures that have significant history and value to them are important to protect.”

Voting against the purchase were Councilors Betsy Gleysteen and Jonathan Anderson.

Gleysteen was concerned about the town not having enough of a plan to justify the purchase, she said.

“Unfortunately, I can’t support this tonight,” she said. “I think the base expense will come out of the land bond fund. Of course we have to bond that and we were running some numbers before and that’s maybe another $45,000 a year to the debt of this.”

Turning the property into a community space may also prove to be difficult, Gleysteen said.

“The parking is just very limited, and I think that’s going to make it tough for it to be a viable community space,” she said. “It does appear there are extensive interior renovations that would be needed to make it an interior space. Maybe we could put those off for a period of time, but if we do that, then we’re purchasing it not really for any kind of immediate community space.”

Other projects, like consolidating the three primary schools, which is not yet certain, are going to come up in the coming year, which may affect the budget, Gleysteen added.

“Times are going to be tough; it’s going to be a tough budget, and I’m just not seeing this as a viable property that fits into the overall comprehensive plan,” she said. “I think if we do a consolidated school, we’re going to have three schools that will no longer be in use. We don’t know if that’s the case or not, but we’re also being asked for library renovations that will have some more meeting space. Again, we don’t know if that will happen.”

Anderson said that there could be more within the scope of the land bond that the town could use.

“As Councilor Gleysteen said, right now purchasing this knowing there’s going to be a lot of decisions we need to make about the budget going forward, whatever we can do to kind of make sure we can use funds to support key needs to get us back to normal,” he said. “Knowing that last year was a tough budget year, I think we need to make that a top priority.”

Councilor Don Hamill said that he felt the decision was tough but was willing to support the purchase for historic preservation purposes.

“If we can secure the facility, restore it, and then develop it for community use in a fashion that would be self-sustaining, renting out the space and so forth,” he said. “I think we’re sorely in need of space. I think longer term there’s some solutions, but there’s an immediate need and opportunity.”

Councilor Ken Johnson said he supported the purchase because the town could always sell the property.

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