MARS HILL, Maine — A majority of Blaine and Mars Hill residents voting in a non-binding straw poll Monday supported building a new community center for recreation programs shared between the two towns.
Of the 135 residents from the two towns attending the meeting Monday evening, 90 voted in favor of building a new community center to replace the current building that has a number of accessibility and safety issues. Thirty-one out of 54 people from Blaine supported the idea, while 59 out of 81 people from Mars Hill were in favor.
The straw poll was non-binding, but provides direction for the elected leaders of the two towns who have been discussing the options for the community center, the former Aroostook Central Institute high school.
“We hope to have some consensus” from the meeting, Mars Hill town manager Dave Cyr said.
The straw poll asked residents to choose one of three options: spending an estimated $1.5 million to repair the current building, demolishing the current building, or spending up to $2.7 million on a replacement.
Before voting, residents and leaders of the towns discussed the pros and the cons of the options, including the likely tax increases associated with a new building and the goals of having a dedicated space for community recreation programs that would serve both youths and adults.
“This isn’t going to hold you to anything,” said Blaine town clerk Janet Bradbury, explaining that further referendums would be required to approve spending for the project. “This is just to give these two boards direction where you want us to go from here.”
Cyr said that the $2.7 million cost estimate for a new building is based on current commercial building costs of around $155 per square foot and the current building’s size of 18,000 square feet.
The goal for the new building would be to have a full-size basketball court that can serve as a walking track, along with a stage for performances, a small office and space for a community food pantry.
After the strawpoll, the next step will be to develop conceptual drawings, solicit public feedback and then acquire voter approval for a borrowing package.
After the meeting, Cyr said he envisions creating a committee with representation from both towns “who will then go through the conceptual design process.” They’ll then go through a request for proposals to select an engineer or architect to come up with a plan that will be taken to bid.
“Once we have gone to bid, or have a stronger feel for what our potential costs could be, Mars Hill will have to have a referendum election, and Blaine will have to do another town meeting to appropriate construction funds.”
Cyr said it’s also possible the towns could seek philanthropic grants to help reduce the costs to the two towns, which have a combined population of approximately 2,000 people.