News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 31, 2018
ICC board ponders next move on lease agreement

by Rich Hewitt

The future of the community center building remains up in the air as the Island Community Center board wrestles with the question of whether to sign an extended lease agreement with the town.

ICC representatives Lydia MacDonald, president, and Nat Barrows, vice president (and publisher of Island Ad-Vantages), met briefly with selectmen Monday to update each other following consultations with their respective lawyers.

The town has leased the building to the ICC since 2003, and, according to selectmen, the terms of the lease have not changed since then. Those terms allocate responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the building: the town is responsible for the exterior and the furnace; ICC is responsible for the interior of the building. An assessment of the building estimated repair costs for the building at more than $600,000.

The selectmen have signed the new lease, extending the ICC’s tenancy from its current expiration on December 31 through June 2019 as directed at this year’s town meeting. The ICC board has not yet signed the extension.

The town’s attorney has indicated that the selectmen have met the requirements of that town meeting vote, according to Selectman Chair Donna Brewer. Now, she said, it’s up to the ICC to decide what it will do.

According to MacDonald, the board’s attorney has advised against signing the lease extension. Although she did not mention the attorney’s advice during Monday’s meeting, she explained that the full board has not yet met to discuss the lease issue. A meeting is scheduled within a few weeks, she said.

After the meeting, MacDonald stressed that the full board has not discussed the attorney’s advice, but acknowledged that his concerns stemmed from the cost of the needed repairs.

“He’s recommended that we not sign the lease,” she said. “The fear is that the town could push us to fulfill all the repairs recommended … immediately. We can’t afford to do that.”

The ICC is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It needs a place to continue to provide its ongoing activities, but can’t afford to maintain the building the way it must be in order to continue as a municipal building.

“We’re trying to deal with the present and at the same time look into the future and plan for the future,” MacDonald said.

Selectman John Robbins raised the question of ICC taking ownership of the building. He said that might make it easier for ICC to raise funds, and, if it were not a town-owned building, ICC might have leeway in what repairs to make and when to make them.

MacDonald said that was one avenue the board was researching, but added committee efforts have been slow to get organized and under way. The board is also working on developing a business plan, which Selectman Evelyn Duncan has urged them to do before deciding on whether to stay at the current site. On Monday, Duncan pointed out that the town had spent a lot of money upgrading the town office building, but had to move the water company into a closet because it needed more space.

“I don’t want the community center to fix up this building and find that they need to have three more rooms because they need to do something different,” she said.

There is some urgency for this issue. December 31, when the current lease expires, is seven months away. Town Manager Kathleen Billings noted that the selectmen need to make decisions regarding reshingling the roof, and the decision they make may be different depending on whether or not there will be a tenant in the building.

In other action on Monday, the selectmen will consider prohibiting parking in the middle of Atlantic Avenue and imposing a hefty fine on anyone who does. Fire Chief Ryan Hayward raised concerned that delivery trucks at the Harbor View store routinely park in the middle of that road while making deliveries, blocking the way for emergency fire vehicles from the station to the rest of the town. Sometimes, the delivery trucks are parked two abreast, he said.

The problem stems mostly from delivery trucks, Hayward said, but often, the trucks are in the street because cars are parked in the narrow loading zone on the Atlantic Avenue side of the building.

Firefighters stressed that the problem is persistent and that it is only a matter of time before the fire trucks will be needed and their path will be blocked.

“There’s going to be a time when we need a truck and we’re going to waste valuable time trying to chase down a driver,” Bill Shepard said.

The store and restaurant have parking spaces on Hagen Dock, and selectmen and several audience members suggested that delivery trucks could park in that area while making deliveries.

After much discussion, the selectmen decided to paint “no parking – fire access” on the pavement and to impose a $1,000 fine for violations. Enforcement of parking regulations has been a problem in the past, but Billings said she will talk with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office to encourage their regular patrols in the town to focus on that area. Billings also reminded them that that action would require a change to the parking ordinance, which in turn requires a seven-day notice and a public hearing. The hearing could be scheduled for the next regular selectmen’s meeting and the selectmen could adopt the changes afterward. Selectman John Steed, an attorney, will work with Billings on the wording of the ordinance change.