Mechanic Falls voters get plan to move town offices

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TOWN OFFICE? — Town officials hope residents will support the purchase of the former medical building for the new Town Office.

MECHANIC FALLS — Voters will be asked when they go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7, to approve a plan to move the existing Town Office, Police Station and library to a centralized building downtown.

A public hearing on the plan will be held today, Thursday, Nov. 2, beginning at 7 p.m. at the current Town Office on Lewiston Street. An initial hearing, held on Oct. 25, was attended by an overflow crowd of residents.

The plan, which has been in the works for several years, would move the current town office space at 108 Lewiston St. into new headquarters in the former Mechanic Falls Family Practice building at 22 Pleasant St. near the municipal parking lot in front of Future Foods.

The medical practice, part of Central Maine Healthcare (CMH), closed in September. The 1928 Town Office formerly housed the Norway High School.

Because of the additional tax base boost through the sale of the current Town Office building and expected siting of a Hannaford’s Supermarket in town next spring, the plan is expected to have little or no impact to taxpayers, Town Manager Koriene Low told the Advertiser Democrat.

Just the sale of the current Town Office would create an additional $12,000 in new property tax revenue, she said. Both the current Town Office and the medical building have generated no taxes for years because of their nonprofit status.

The Town Council has met with a potential buyer who has a history of converting old schools and town offices into senior housing. An intent to purchase has been submitted to the Central Maine Health board for approval of the plan.

As a former employee of Community Concepts, Low said she was aware of similar situations and had been advised that if a buyer surfaced who would reuse the town office space, the town should “grab” that person because reuse of old buildings is rare. Most developers simply tear them down.

“It’s a very unique niche,” she said of developers who seek out old schools and other buildings to reuse.

Low said the purchase of the medical center would be financed through a refinancing of the original $850,000 loan that has approximately $224,500 debt remaining.

The new loan, she said, would be for $750,000 and would provide enough funds to purchase the building and make necessary improvements to it, including electrical, Internet, furniture, window replacement and more.

Proponents of the move say it will provide the town with a centralized and visible location in an area that has a municipal parking lot.

According to information provided to residents by town officials, the new location would be more energy efficient and reduce energy costs for the town by more than $10,000 while requiring less maintenance. It would also offer air conditioning that is currently handled by larger, more expensive individual units. Handicapped access will be improved.

The current Town Office requires significant work to maintain as a safe location for staff and the public, according to the information. It needs a HVAC system to control air quality and humidity levels and there is minimal insulation. The furnace is more than 15 years old and requires annual replacement of circulator pumps and the gym is no longer viable space for use because of the floor.

Additionally, the underground tanks must be removed by law in eight years and the entire parking area needs to be repaved.

If the repairs were made to the current Town Office it would add to the tax base, according to town officials, and cost more than the new building.

Committees have been looking at whether to renovate or build a new municipal building as far back as 1986.

Polls are open on Nov. 7 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mechanic Falls Town Office.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net