News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 7, 2021
Select board adds strings to ICC lease extension
Wants to see progress on plan for building takeover

by Leslie Landrigan

The Stonington Select Board at its January 4 meeting informally decided to extend the Island Community Center’s (ICC) lease in June if the board presents more concrete plans to take over the building.

The ICC is on the 19th year of a 20-year lease, signed in 2002. That year, the ICC nonprofit formed to run the former public school building as a community center. The agreement includes four five-year leases, with renewals every year, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings. Selectmen can renew the lease without a Town Meeting until that agreement expires in 2022, she said.

The board and the town have sparred over maintenance and repair of the aging building. The ICC board decided several years ago it wanted to take ownership for a nominal fee. Then in 2019, the ICC won the support of Town Meeting for the town to spend $100,000 to fix the building. The ICC has also asked for money every year from Stonington and Deer Isle. In 2020, each town contributed $13,000.

The ICC, which has also spent considerable sums to repair and upgrade the building, relies on donations, fees, grants and revenue from an endowment of approximately $500,000.

June deadline

In December, ICC representatives—Phil Elkin, board president; Craig Hutchinson, board vice president; and Jeannie Hatch, director—asked the select board to extend the lease for a year. Selectmen asked them about their plans to buy the building.

Then at the January select board meeting, Selectman Evelyn Duncan said she understood how the pandemic hampered the ICC. But, she said, “I really would like to know why they didn’t get further along than they are.”

Donna Brewer, select board chair, said she’d like to see the ICC support itself. She suggested raising the rent, now $3,000. “That would give them some indication if they could take over the building,” she said.

Selectman John Robbins said he wants to see more progress. “I’d like to see some kind of decision before June. By then they should have something concrete enough to say, ‘We’re going to do this, this and this.’”

What if they don’t want it?

Billings said she wanted to talk with the town auditor about the town’s responsibilities for transferring building ownership, such as an appraisal. The select board agreed. She also said the town needed to consider what to do with the property if the ICC decided it didn’t want it.

“It’s a good idea to think about what the town can do with that space if they don’t want it,” said Selectman John Steed. “We could rent the space, and maybe it wouldn’t cost the towns $13,000 for a half-time job as a property manager.”