ALFRED, Maine — Selectmen say estimates to buy and convert the old, long vacant York County Jail into a new town hall for Alfred totals just under $1.8 million.
If selectmen approve putting the matter to the voters on the June 12 ballot, they would bond $1.6 million over 20 years and use $200,000 from a fund they established from the proceeds of sales of property and timber as a downpayment.
Alfred Treasurer Fred Holt said that the town has recently completed paying a paving bond and will finish paying an ambulance bond in the 2019-2020 fiscal year and a transfer station bond in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“There should be no effect on the tax rate at all,” Holt said, if the town were to approve the purchase and conversion of the old, 14,000 square foot jail to municipal offices.
Selectmen and Town Hall staff laid out the prospect at an informational meeting earlier this week.
The purchase price of the building, which is privately owned, is $250,000, which is included in the $1,776,189 estimate.
Selectmen have said that even if the town were to make changes to the current Town Hall providing elevator access to the second floor, it would soon outgrow that space as well and point to an architectural study done several years ago that reached the same conclusion.
Selectmen Board Chairman Tony Palminteri said the cost estimates came from contractors — plumbers, electricians, drywall installers and a host of others.
As currently envisioned, Codes Enforcement Officer James Allaire would oversee the project.
The old jail property is structurally sound, has lots of parking, has an “excellent” septic system, provides room for future growth, provides accessibility and visibility and fits the town’s historic setting, Palminteri told a packed house at Conant Chapel on Wednesday.
There is a general lack of meeting space in the current Town Hall, hence the meeting Wednesday at Conant Chapel. Offices are tiny, computer servers are in the vault, and items are stored in the boiler room next to the boiler because there is no other space.
Town Clerk Andrew Bors pointed out that state law says absentee voting booths must be in clear sight of the Town Clerk, but notes he can’t see those booths from his office and his office isn’t large enough to provide privacy for a voter.
The current Alfred Town Hall was built in 1862. The old county jail, built in 1869, ceased to hold prisoners in the early 1970s. It was vacant for many years, until a prior board of York County Commissioners sold it to Michael Kaplan of Portland for $2,501 in 2000.
Residents had many questions, and assorted opinions.
One asked selectmen to get at least one estimate from a general contractor. Palminteri said the board would consider that request.
Individual estimates were not revealed. Palminteri said doing so would not be fair to the contractors who provided estimates if voters approve the measure and the work is put to bid. He did say the price includes a $100,000 contingency.
The project includes gutting the interior of the building to the two-foot exterior walls and creating municipal offices and meeting rooms inside.
Palminteri said both the foundation and the slate roof have been inspected and found to be in good condition.
He said the building is asbestos-free, removed when pipes were taken out some years ago. Lead paint would need to be abated.
At an earlier meeting, residents asked selectmen to look at some other properties. One had wetlands on 50 percent of the land available, another was a small lot with a shared driveway, a third had traffic access issues, one was not available and another would not be visible from a roadway, which would need to be built, selectmen said.
“This really sounds like a luxury item to me,” said resident Marian Menelly. “I don’t see the need for Alfred to go into debt.”
Others felt differently.
“This is an investment in the future,” said Jack Kindness. “And we kind of need the space anyway.”
Alfred has a population of about 3,000. In 2017, there were 19 new home building permits issued and selectmen have noted that Keywood Manor, a manufactured housing community near the Kennebunk town line, plans to expand by about 132 new units.
Selectmen will decide whether to put the matter to voters and if they do so, will host a public hearing prior to the June 12 referendum.
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