YORK, Maine — With less than a month to go before the town takes control of the Ramsdell-Rogers American Legion Post, Legion members are still looking for a new post home with no likely candidate in sight.
Since the town took ownership of the building in August, said Commander Pete Doe, Legion members have looked at about two dozen properties in York that were eliminated for a number of reasons including parking, size, cost and location.
The Legion was forced to sell its building to the town last July for $1.2 million during a foreclosure auction. The town gave the Legion until Nov. 15, rent free, to find a new home while it prepares to convert the building to a police station.
The Hannaford Drive Post home has been running on a deficit since before it opened its doors in 2008. Contractor Ryan Byther, as later criminal and civil actions against him made clear, spent as much as $400,000 in club funds after he was hired for work he never performed. The Legion had to spend money twice, to pay contractors Byther “hired” but never paid, and hire new contractors to finish the work.
While Byther was convicted of theft and the Legion secured a $1.4 million civil judgment against him, Legion members say he pays less than $200 a month on the criminal court order and has paid nothing on the civil judgment.
The money paid by the town covered the Legion’s mortgage, but they still have outstanding legal and accounting bills arising out of the Byther court proceedings, said Doe. Attempts to reach Byther have been unsuccessful.
Doe said the Legion has been vigilant in looking for properties in York. The Legion has to rent initially, which has hampered its search. A candidate building has to be in York, under terms of the Legion’s charter; it has to have male and female restrooms that include handicapped accessible facilities; it has to be commercially zoned and more than one-half mile from a school because it serves alcohol; there has to be parking for at least 20 vehicles; and the space itself needs to be at least 2,500 square feet. The current Legion is 12,000 square feet.
“Unfortunately, every one we saw had an issue,” he said. “There were a couple of places we thought, yea, we could squeeze in there, but it didn’t work out.”
Doe has put out a plea to all community members to please get in touch with the Legion if they know of any suitable location. But he doesn’t hold out much hope. “I think we’ve pretty much exhausted the search, unless there’s something we haven’t noticed.”
Meanwhile, the Legion has just barely been eking by at the Post home these past few months.
“People think we’re already closed. You can see that from the nightly tally. They think we’re toast,” Doe said.
If no home is found by Nov. 15, the Legion has been offered meeting space at both the Veterans for Foreign War Post and the Masonic Lodge in York.
“If we have to go that route we’ll do it,” he said.
But Doe remains confident in the strength of the Legion.
“Hey, I spent 28 years in the military, and I’ve seen a lot of discouragement, but that doesn’t mean you stop. If you stop, you’re dead,” he said. “We’re still afloat, damn it, and we intend to stay that way.”