Wilson Hall, part of the former East Maine Conference Seminary in Bucksport, has fallen into disrepair. Town officials will soon hold a public hearing to determine its fate. — CYNDI WOOD
Wilson Hall in Bucksport FILE PHOTO

Bucksport Town Council considers Wilson Hall ballot question

BUCKSPORT — At last week’s Town Council meeting, councilors considered adding a question to the town’s ballot this November. The purpose of the question would be to assess voters’ interest in keeping the historic but dilapidated Wilson Hall building standing.

The 177-year-old former Methodist Seminary has been in disrepair since the seminary closed in the 1970s, but many in town are reluctant to demolish the structure due to its long history, as well as its status on the National Register of Historic Places.

Earlier this year, the Town Council put out a request for proposals for replacing the building’s roof and windows. The repairs would keep water and snow from entering the building and further deteriorating its rotted frame.

Last week, Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Hammond said the town received bids from two firms. The first firm, Wayne Hanscom, proposed to fix the roof for $220,500 and to replace the windows for $14,000. The second firm, McLaughlin Builders, proposed to fix the roof for $149,498 and to replace the windows for $36,000.

Those sums were a bit too large for the council’s tastes, especially since no business or organization has come forward to take the building over once the repairs are completed.

“I’m not sure that either of the proposals that we’ve received is cost-effective if we don’t have an end-user,” said Town Manager Susan Lessard at last week’s meeting.

Councilor Peter Stewart expressed his growing impatience with the Wilson Hall issue, which has gone unresolved for so long.

“We have beat this around the bush for several years and we’re not any closer than where we started,” he said. “I say we put it on the ballot and if the town wants to do it then we spend the money to do it.”

Councilor David Kee shared Stewart’s sentiment, though he worried that the turnout for this year’s election might be much lower than last year’s, which coincided with a presidential election.

Town Clerk Kathy Downes said that 2,500 people voted last year out of 3,800 registered voters. On an off-election year, though, Downes said that “We’re lucky if we have 1,500. That’s pushing it.”

“A relatively small number of people might make these decisions, which concerns me a little bit,” Kee said.

Low turnout or no, Lessard said the council is out of time to go through the legal steps of putting a binding measure on the ballot this November. However, the council does have time to put on a nonbinding referendum question.

A nonbinding referendum would give the Town Council a sense of how voters feel about the issue, without requiring the council to follow through with it either way.

“It’s really more of a poll of the electorate to see what they feel about the building,” Lessard said after the meeting.

So far councilors have not heard much passionate feeling about the building either way.

“My phone’s not ringing with people clamoring for answers about this thing,” said Councilor Robert Carmichael Jr.

Councilors also expressed interest in providing a temporary fix to Wilson Hall’s leaky roof problem.

Mayor and Council Chairman David Keene proposed taking off the building’s cupola and putting a patch on the roof to prevent water from coming in. He said that option might only cost $25,000, while tearing the whole building down could cost $45,000.

“It’s an iconic landmark in the community…once it’s down it’s gone forever,” Keene said. “I’d like to at least go out and get some quotes in the next two weeks to see if we can get that cupola down and a patch put on for a minimal amount of money.”

Lessard’s assignment for the next Town Council meeting is to come up with possible language for a referendum question, and to find some estimates of how much Keene’s temporary fix might cost.

The goal of the fix would be to keep the building standing until a user steps up to plate.

“The town has always been interested in finding an organization that is interested in acquiring the building and saving it,” Lessard said after the meeting. “Keeping it whole long enough to find the right person to do that is key.”

David Roza

David Roza

Former reporter, David Roza grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and covered news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.

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