‘Time to get married’: Selectmen field MAG pitch for longer lease, building aid

Schoonerfest aid also sought
Sun, 06/20/2021 - 8:30pm

    Two requests have Wiscasset officials looking to town rules and records and, in one case, the morals of the matter.

    June 15, Maine Art Gallery proposed Wiscasset provide a 20-year lease and yearly funding toward work on the 1807, town-owned building that housed Wiscasset Academy. And Selectman Terry Heller asked the board to tap a celebrations account to aid the inaugural Schoonerfest.

    “There’s nothing that speaks Wiscasset more than this particular event,” Heller said.

    When voters pass the celebrations budget each year, they believe it will go to Fourth of July and winter celebrations, Town Manager Dennis Simmons and Selectman Pam Dunning told Heller. “Legally, I think you can do it. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” Simmons said.

    “Legally and morally are two different things,” Dunning said.

    Simmons noted, due to the event’s size, the town will already be contributing to Schoonerfest in-kind, through law enforcement and public works. 

    And Simmons said if funds unspent due to the pandemic are not spent by the end of the fiscal year June 30, they cannot be until the board decides, likely in August, if it will carry them over.

    “So tonight’s the night,” Heller said about considering a town contribution to Schoonerfest, set for Aug. 18-22. She said the event’s budget is close to $25,000 and about $10,000 of that still needs to be raised; organizers are seeking sponsors, she said. “(A town contribution) comes right under celebrations ... What I want is a public/private partnership that ... works because this is something the community wants to invest in.”

    Selectmen plan to discuss the request July 6. Members suggested Schoonerfest organizers attend.

    MAG gallery manager Kerry Hadley told the board expanding from the $1 a year, five-year lease to a 20-year one would help the nonprofit get grants; so would a town commitment to putting money into the building, she said. It needs help, due to “too much deferred maintenance,” she said. Every grant she sought as manager of Camden Opera House, she got, because she does the homework, as she is doing here, trying to cement the relationship with the town for grantors to see that commitment to the building, she explained.

    MAG has sought a Belvedere Historic Preservation Grant of about $16,000 toward mitigating water damage, Hadley said. Quoting grant documents, she said Belvedere expects applicants to “either have, or plan to establish, a regular maintenance budget ... as part of their commitment to stewardship of the building. (We) will consider requests for capital repairs due to neglected upkeep ... only if the applicant details a plan for future maintenance and care ... to avoid such situations ...” 

    MAG has done capital planning, replaced the roof, and plans to seek many other grants, Hadley said. And people connected to the gallery have done other work on the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and Wiscasset’s Museum in the Streets, she said.

    Her letter to the board states the tax map calls the bathroom and kitchen “obsolete”; the bathroom has only cold water; the eaves need repair; water drips into the basement; Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access cannot happen until a masonry leak is addressed; and the cupola and windows need repair and restoration.

    “Leverage me, leverage these incredible people, and use us,” she told selectmen from the lectern. “I teased Dennis. I said ‘You lease us the building for a dollar a year, I’ll lease you me and our board back for a dollar a year and let’s just make this happen.’ We can save this building, and make it one of the true gems, which it is already, and keep it and fix it so that it can remain.”

    “Time to get married,” Selectman Dusty Jones said later in the discussion. He suggested a reserve account be formed for all the town’s historic buildings.

    Dunning voiced support for the longer lease. Simmons said it should not be a problem, except he has not found where voters approved the first lease decades ago. The town cannot lease property without voter approval, so the new one will need a town vote, he said. The town has long supported the relationship, so it should be pretty easy to fix, he said.

    Simmons was not sure it will be ready in time for this summer’s anticipated special town meeting.

    Town counsel was not satisfied with MAG’s memo of understanding; there needs to be the proposed new lease to review, Simmons continued. And he said the document cannot commit the town to annual funding; he and Dunning said that would be up to town voters each year, like other spending. Dunning, Wiscasset Public Library’s director, said it asks the town annually. 

    The town is responsible for its buildings’ care, Simmons noted. He said maybe next year’s budget talks should include considering a budget line for maintenance of all the town’s historic buildings.

    Dunning suggested Hadley give the grantors the meeting minutes to show that the town and MAG are working together. “I think that’s a very positive thing. I think (the grantors would) recognize that you can’t do this in five minutes,” Dunning told her. “The wheels of the town move slower than the wheels of God.”

    This might help other historic buildings, Heller said. “All of a sudden I’m thinking, maybe all of the boats will rise with this one.”

    The board welcomed new members Jones and Heller. Selectmen made Sarah Whitfield chair and Jones vice chair. Whitfield said outgoing chair Dunning has given her a “great introduction to the selectboard ... I’ve learned a lot from you.” Jones agreed to be the board’s liaison to the investment, airport and budget committees; Dunning, cemetery committee; and Heller, appearance of the town committee.

    Selectmen plan a July 8 workshop. Topics include the committee voters supported on the future of the town’s schools. Whitfield said she does not want two months to go by without the new committee meeting, especially since Dresden is starting to look again at possibly withdrawing from Regional School Unit 2. Selectmen plan to invite Wiscasset School Committee to the workshop and to have one or two school committee members or maybe a member and Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood on the new committee.