Development, building repair are council’s top priorities

1 year ago

CARIBOU, Maine — If things go as planned in 2023, the Caribou City Council could take significant action on matters related to economic development, municipal building repairs and other citywide issues.

Every year, councilors rank what they believe should be the city’s top priorities in various categories. The city manager tallies the scores and delivers the final results. As the year goes on, councilors use that list as a guide for setting city policies aimed at catering to the community’s needs.

At their Monday, Feb. 27, meeting, city councilors discussed how to address their top choices this year: deferred maintenance for city buildings, riverfront redevelopment and the future of the Nylander Museum.

Councilors voted 6-to-1 to hire the Caribou-based Staples Construction to remove the fire station’s defunct pellet boiler and cap off remaining ductwork. As part of the $21,445 project, contractor Dean Staples and crew members will remove all parts of the boiler unit.

As the city builds its 2023 budget, Councilor John Morrill, a member of the municipal buildings committee, warned that costly repairs will likely come up. Those repairs will only get more expensive if delayed much longer, he stated.

Morrill suggested the council create a facilities maintenance manager position. Ideally, that person would be available to complete more minor repairs for city buildings before those issues get worse, he said.

“We don’t have a designated person that department heads can call when they need a toilet fixed or if the building needs a fresh coat of paint,” Morrill said. 

Several councilors agreed. Many windows at the library need to be replaced due to poor insulation, said Lou Willey, the council’s liaison to the library board of trustees.

“We might as well leave the windows open at this point because they’re not retaining heat,” Willey said. 

As the municipal buildings committee continues to meet, Morrill will update the council on what projects they will propose for the 2023 budget.

Riverfront redevelopment also ranked high on the council’s economic development priorities this year. With a total score of 12, the priority sits just below that of downtown revitalization, which received a total score of 13 based on councilors’ votes.

In her proposed economic development budget, City Manager Penny Thompson noted a $40,000 request from the Caribou Riverfront Renaissance Committee.

The committee needs $50,000 to pay for a consultant to help develop the riverfront master plan. Without a formal plan in place for the riverfront, including goals, the city will not be as qualified for state and federal grants, Thompson said.

The riverfront committee is requesting that the city allocate $40,000 in the event that they do not receive future grants or donations. So far the Riverfront Renaissance Committee has raised $10,000 for the master plan through donations. That includes funds from Walmart and ENGIE, an international solar company who is building a local solar farm.

Though Thompson recommended capping the city budget contribution at $10,000, councilors agreed to honor the riverfront committee’s request.

“We’ll never get riverfront projects off the ground if we don’t have that master plan in place,” said Councilor Dan Bagley. 

The city has not received news regarding a $600,000 Brownfields grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, which would pay for asbestos and hazardous waste removal at Caribou’s former diesel plant at 142 Lower Lyndon St. The city applied for the grant in late 2022.

The Nylander Museum is also on the forefront of councilors’ minds. “Nylander assets and staffing” ranked number four on the councilors’ infrastructure goals and “Nylander operations” ranked number three for leisure service priorities.

In 2021, the city council voted to dissolve the Nylander’s working board of directors and placed Library Director Peter Baldwin in charge of its programs. Though once a thriving educational venue, the museum has mostly remained closed since the start of the pandemic. No in-person youth programs have been held since before COVID.

Despite previous debate, councilors have yet to decide whether to create a new working or advisory board for the museum or hire another staff member to assist Baldwin. 

Thompson noted that the Nylander’s proposed budget is largely the same as in 2022 – $53,903 this year compared to $53,173 in 2022 – because the museum has remained closed for regular programs since Baldwin took over in January 2022.

She encouraged councilors to discuss the Nylander’s future at their next meeting.

“We’ve never had a good discussion about the museum. Are we reopening? How about programs? Do we want to restore a working board?” Thompson said.

Baldwin has been overseeing the work of part-time employee Franco Scalora, who has digitally cataloged the museum’s artifacts. Scalora has cataloged over 15,000 artifacts and has 200 more to go.

Many people have expressed interest in serving on a potential working board for the museum, he said.

“There’s still interest in having the museum open, but I’m also not sure what the council wants,” Baldwin said. 

Councilors agreed to discuss the Nylander at their next regular meeting, slated at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 13, at the Caribou Municipal Building, located at 25 High St.