Topsham officials are looking for residents’ input on a potential community center, which advocates say would address recreational and meeting space needs.

Although talks about building a community center in town are in their early stages, a survey running through July 15 is key to a project moving forward, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman Dave Douglass.

“We think there is a large segment of people that want it. I am positive there are, but we are hoping at least 1,000 reply whether they are for or against it, which is ambitious, but it would give us a nice picture of what people think,” Douglass said.

Finding out what residents would want in a community center is also the first step in determining the scope of such a project and its cost.

“Topsham has done great in not having to bond anything for a number of years,” Douglass said. “That’s a source of pride for us, we pay for what we do, don’t take loans, but this would require a bond. There is an ongoing cost too with staffing and maintenance. When this is decided, if it is, we want to have a very clear idea of staffing needs.”

The survey asks residents to select their preferred amenities in a community center, such as a child care room for before and after school care, event space with a kitchen, fitness space with room for group classes, an indoor walking track, multipurpose gym and a swimming pool.

It also ask residents how much more they’d be will to pay in taxes to fund the construction and operation of a community center.

Community center discussions started a few years ago, Douglass said, arising from a need for meeting space in town and recreational sporting events. Those activities now have to be held in school gyms and are contingent on school schedules, he said. A community center could also provide programs for seniors, he said.

Last year, three of the five members of the selectboard were wary of such a project, but voted to allow the town move forward with a study. The study was postponed because of the pandemic, but is back on track, he said.

Board member Ruth Lyons said she isn’t necessarily against the center, but has concerns around ongoing costs and how it could impact taxes for residents, particularly senior citizens on fixed incomes.

“When you a build a facility like this, it will cost millions. We have to acquire land, and it has ongoing, repairs, people you need to hire, staff, lighting. You’re talking a lot of money. Millions. That’s my concern,” Lyons said.

School facilities are sufficient, she said, and the town could look into paying for residents to use community facilities in Brunswick.

“I worry about our taxpayers,” Lyons said. “I think that we’ve got to think about the elderly. Who will be the majority of people using it? It has got to have a good plan.”

Douglass said one way to mitigate costs could be to seek a public-private partnership. An organization like the YMCA, for example, could collaborate and take on some of the costs,” he said. 

Lyons says she’s open to that idea.

“If we could get 75% of it privately funded, and maybe off an inheritance or something to cover ongoing costs, maybe I would feel going forward would be doable,” she said.

“Two members of the board are in full support, three still need to be sold on it. I am just appreciative they’ve given us a chance to explore this,” Douglass said.

To take the survey, visit the topshammaine.com home page.

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