The Treasure Chest at Kennebunk’s Public Services facility on Sea Road has been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some select board members are wondering, given traffic flow issues and future space limitations, if it should be closed. Dan King photo

KENNEBUNK – The Treasure Chest at Public Services on Sea Road might not serve up any more treasures any time soon, if ever.

Closed since the beginning of the pandemic, it remains shuttered, and some on the town’s select board say perhaps it should stay that way.

The Treasure Chest is a place where patrons can dispose of household items that are in good condition – and where someone searching for that very thing may find it and take it home, free.

The free shops are a phenomenon at a number of Maine transfer stations, usually staffed by volunteers, and are popular to boot. There’s the thrill of discovering a cool lamp for the living room, or scoring a set of flatware for the kitchen when finances are stretched thin.

And for thrifty Yankees, mindful of the “use it up, wear it out, make it do or go without,” edict so familiar in these parts, the thought of just throwing away items that are unwanted, but in good condition, tends to go against the grain.

As the town ponders upgrades to the Public Services facility at 36 Sea Road and concerns continue over traffic flow, the future of the Treasure Chest seems in doubt.

“The Tresure Chest has come to an end, that’s my opinion,” said select board chair Blake Baldwin. “We’re still in the COVID-19 crisis, that seems to be getting better, but it’s not yet over. And we’ve always had some difficulty with people leaving things, and frankly people using the Treasure Chest as a way to try and enrich themselves. They’d take things and trot on down to the flea market and sell them at a profit, which I don’t think  the intent was.”

Baldwin said the larger problem is that the public works garage area is unsuitable for the work that needs to be done, and upgrades are being contemplated.

“So, question really is, does anyone want to speak on behalf of Treasure Chest or let it go quietly into that good night,” Baldwin asked his fellow board members at the April 27 meeting.

Board member Ed Karytko said he favors keeping the Treasure Chest, and pointed out that most recycling facilities there’s always an area where goods can be dropped off that others might find useful.

“I’m not really concerned about picking up and reselling,” said Karytko. “I’d rather that not happen, I don’t know how frequently that happened. He said he has personally benefitted from some items people left, like landscaping and other tools.

“Am awful lot of people come in and drop things off and others pick them up,” said Karytko. “I think its a lot like the medical loan closet … I think it’s helpful to the community. I’m in favor of keeping it.”

He said only one day a week seems to cause a problem and suggested eliminating that day – the Friday hours – when the public services area is open. The Treasure Chest has Saturday hours, but the public works facility itself does not operate that day.

Public Services Director Bryan Laverriere said the building itself is small, complicating the need for social distancing. He also pointed out that if people drop items off – as has happened at times during the pandemic, when the Treasure Chest is closed, then the town has to pay to dispose of them.

“It’s really about contract tracing and social distancing,” said Laverriere, noting there is no town hall staff oversight. Longer term, he added, the future may be tied to the redevelopment of the public works site. He noted the public works site is small and said incorporating the Treasure Chest into future plans may be costly.

“I certainly understand the argument for keeping it closed at the time for the pandemic … and I understand there’s long been kind of a hassle for the town professionals who have to deal with it, but I think it gives a very valuable and fun function for residents and keeps a lot of (items) out of the waste stream and potentially off the side of the road,” said resident John Costin.

Costin said he knows people taking items and selling them is problematic, and said that needs to be controlled … but that the Treasure Chest itself is beneficial.

“It’s one of the tiny things that bind the community together,” said Costin.

Baldwin and Karytko suggested that perhaps it could be situated elsewhere.

“It will eventually get in the way of growth for the public works garage,” said Baldwin.

Board member William Ward asked if the present location poses a safety hazard.

“Traffic flow itself poses a safety challenge,” said Laverriere, both on weekdays and on Saturdays, the busiest transfer station day.  “Safety is a concern there every day, if the Treasure Chest is there or not.”

Board member Wayne Berry pointed out there are other, similar, venues like St. David’s Budget Box, Outta the Box at The New School, and Re-Store, which is operated by Habitat for Humanity York County. He pointed out they’re all monitored and staffed.

“It’s a valuable part of the community for people who don’t have a lot of money,” said resident Brenda Robinson, who urged the board find a way to continue the venue. “Keep it on your agenda for relocation, or some sort of alternative,” Robinson urged. “It would be a good thing.”

There was no vote, but general agreement that the Treasure Chest will remain temporarily closed and the matter revisited at a later date.

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