A community center project has been discussed in Standish for over a decade and is expected to be pushed back again. Screenshot / Town of Standish

High construction costs and project planning hampered by the pandemic likely will lead the Standish Town Council next week to vote against putting a community center bond proposal on the November ballot, according to Chairperson Gregory LeClerc.

“This is just not a good time,” LeClerc said, citing one design that came in at $13 million, a 16% increase over pre-pandemic estimates.

Town Manager Bill Giroux said higher construction costs elevated by the pandemic are partially to blame.

“It’s looking like we’re probably going to go back to the drawing board,” Giroux said.

The pandemic also impacted the project steering committee’s work, LeClerc said. The committee met only a handful of times and wasn’t able to have important discussions regarding designs, alternative sites, collaboration with other towns and possible sponsorship opportunities. Outside funding sources, such as L.L. Bean, the Alfond Foundation and federal money, should be explored to cut down on the project’s costs, he said.

Simons Architects of Portland presented the council with three community center designs last month, all of which LeClerc called “half-baked.” None of the designs take into account the town’s current needs, he said. For example, each design called for space for a food pantry, which is not needed because the town’s food pantry recently relocated to the Sebago Lake Congregational Church on Route 35.

A community center in town has been discussed for more than a decade. More than 70% of respondents to a 2019 Parks and Recreation survey strongly agreed the town needed a facility of that sort. The town tentatively plans to locate it behind the municipal office center on Northeast Road. Many recreation and senior programs are now held at the municipal center.

The three Simons designs call for a gymnasium, dining/assembly room, kitchen and activity room. An elevated walking track in two out of the three proposals would be the most expensive component, said Director of Parks and Recreation Jen DeRice.

Barbara Kelly, who served on the community center’s now inactive steering committee, said town hall doesn’t have enough space for community programming. As president of the town’s senior program and a participant in recreation department activities such as line dancing and arts and crafts, Kelly noted the building is often overrun.

“People here are very active,” she said.

A community center would be nice to have as soon as possible to house some of these programs, Kelly said, but she understands the current burden on the town and taxpayers.

“Nobody’s going to be really anxious to vote anything through,” Kelly said. “People will hopefully be more stabilized next year.”

The town authorized a feasibility study for a community center in late 2019, and following a study in 2008, when the economic downturn halted further discussion.

If the council decides against a referendum Aug. 10, LeClerc said the steering committee would be reformed to continue assessing options.  The referendum would be pushed back to 2022, while the council can also work on higher priorities for the town, such as traffic concerns, he said.

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