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Mars Hill, Blaine mulling future of community center

MARS HILL, Maine — The towns of Blaine and Mars Hill will be considering the future of their shared community center and whether to invest in a new building, renovations or additions.  

The Mars Hill Town Council discussed building estimates provided by the Sewall Company for the community center during its meeting Monday evening, June 17. The building, the former Aroostook Central Institute school, hosts a gym, local recreation activities, a community food pantry and space that is leased to a private daycare business. 

Mars Hill Town Manager David Cyr said the towns will at least have to address fire safety and accessibility issues in order to continue using the facility, but the larger decision about the building revolves around three options:

The towns could renovate the existing building to address safety and accessibility issues for an estimated cost of $1.53 million, according to the Sewell engineering analysis. The second option would be to construct an addition with offices, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and upgraded finishes and fire safety for an estimated $1.45 million. Or the third option would be to demolish the existing building, and build a similarly sized 22,200-square-foot community center for an estimated cost of $3.4 million. 

“These estimates are preliminary and could likely change as the scope of work becomes better defined in future discussions,” Cyr said. 

Cyr added that a decision about how to move forward would be made by Mars Hill and Blaine voters at a referendum. 

“The two communities will have to speak,” said Mars Hill Councilor Michael Stitham. 

Kevin Grass, a member of the Blaine selectboard, said that the decision is an important one for the two communities that will require balancing affordability and investment in a community resource for the future.

“I’m not in favor of putting $1.5 million into a 70-year-old building,” Grass said. He also suggested that if towns consider building a new community center, they do so near Central Aroostook Jr./Sr. High School. “You have to have programs for kids. If you don’t you’re going to have a lot more trouble in school.”

The Mars Hill council tabled the matter and will revisit it to discuss proceeding with further discussion and outreach to voters. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the Blaine selectboard member speaking during the meeting. The selectman speaking was Kevin Grass

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