STONINGTON — Over 100 residents turned out for the annual Town Meeting, which turned into a labored discussion about the wording of a warrant article to support the future of the aging Island Community Center building.
Residents nominated two moderators, Richard Howe and Skip Greenlaw, so a secret ballot vote was held, throwing off the start of warrant article discussion by more than 20 minutes. Howe received 40 votes, Greenlaw 17.
After more than 45 minutes of amended motions and discussion, Stonington residents voted to support the center.
At issue was a phrase in the original warrant article stating the town “votes to save the building complex of the former school building.”
The building belongs to the town of Stonington. Stonington leases the building to the nonprofit organization Island Community Center, which is also used by Deer Isle residents.
The building needs many repairs, including life safety code repairs totaling an estimated $648,450, according to a building condition assessment done by the town’s engineer, Andrew McCullough.
Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings said the property is assessed at $523,000.
It isn’t clear what it would cost to build a new community center. One resident said, “You don’t ask a town to save a building when you have no idea what it will cost to build a new building.”
Billings said, “This is going to take some time. I’ve been really reticent about what it is we do at this point.” The town manager has contacted the town’s attorney for advice on how to proceed considering the building’s condition.
Stonington resident Renee Sewall is chairwoman of the community center’s building committee.
Sewall, who is a builder herself, said she thinks the building is worth saving.
“We can sit here all day long and speculate,” Sewall said. “We really need to form a committee to look at that building to make improvements in a cost-effective way.”
Selectman John Steed made a motion to remove the aforementioned reference about “save the building complex.”
“So we’re committed to having a community center but we’re not committing to any particular plan at the meeting and let’s go from there,” Steed said.
The edited motion reads thusly:
“The Town of Stonington affirms the importance of the Island Community Center to the health and well-being of the island and votes to extend the lease with the Island Community Center for 6 months past its current lease, which ends in December 2018. Also that the Community Center Board and Stonington town officials will collaborate to create a long-term plan for the building improvements and continued program enhancement, provided that the Selectmen of the Town of Stonington work with the Selectmen of Deer Isle to secure funding from both towns for improvements and program enhancements.”
In other business, residents approved Stonington’s comprehensive plan with little discussion. Resident and Penobscot Bay Press Publisher Nat Barrows asked that the town consider making reference to environment and culture in the plan’s vision statement.
In budget news, voters approved spending $400,000 from surplus to construct a salt/sand shed at the town garage.
Voters approved a total municipal spending package $2,383,139 for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1. That figure is derived from adding up the warrant’s spending articles.
Stonington will be presented with a proposed education budget at a community wide meeting with Deer Isle in June.
In election news, incumbent selectman Evelyn Duncan beat out challenger and former selectman Richard Larrabee Sr. by one vote. Duncan received 84 votes and Larrabee 83.
Newcomer Travis Fifield was elected to a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen with 110 votes. Former Selectman Chris Betts decided not to seek re-election.
Incumbent School Board member Stephen York was elected to another three-year term with 111 votes. York ran unopposed.
Write-in School Board candidate Elizabeth Smith was elected with 20 votes.