January 27, 2017

Windham Town Council seeks voter approval By Stephen Signor

At a Town Council meeting held in October 2016, another meeting was scheduled as a follow up to discuss the proposed new Public Works/School Transportation facility. At that time, council members expressed the need to get the public involved in determining if the building that has been shared with the school district for 30 years, needed to be replaced. In the meeting held this past Tuesday, the Council, staff, and representatives from RSU 14 were asked to discuss whether the proposed facility is designed to meet needs; and also to understand how best to team up with the RSU board and administration, so that both are on the same page about how a proposed facility will translate into benefits for the communities.

Town Manager Tony Plante prefaced the meeting by emphasizing the importance of establishing a sense of direction. “When this was discussed in October of 2016, the way we left the conversation that went to the voters on the November ballot was that, as soon as we could reasonably manage it, we would have another discussion; mainly for the purpose of reviewing the needs of the proposed facility and determine whether it is designed to meet the needs of both the Public Works Department and the school district and how to arrange a mutually agreed upon cost sharing.”
That being said, Doug Fortier simply inquired, “So where do we go from here?”  With the open houses that have already taken place at the current facility, the response has been favorable. “We have people come in that initially felt this was a want more than a need - only to walk away afterward and say - you really do need this,” continued Fortier.

Councilman Dennis Welch expressed his approval of the facility with his experience. “I was one of those who was there and took a look at it and it is definitely a need and not a want; and not just for today, but for the future. It needs to get done,” said Welch.

Reinforcement was provided by Councilman Tim Nangle. “In projections last week we are looking at 1,400 new builds over the next 13 years. We also had comments about public safety being a priority. Public Works is about safety. Without quality roads and infrastructure we’re not going to have safe roads and it is going to have an increased demand on fire and police as well,” said Nangle.
“I know we need it, but it’s not going to fly again,” replied Council Chair Donna Chapman. Before any response could be launched Chapman continued, “I’m concerned if we do not lower the cost we will never get this facility built. A lot of people feel this is a want and not a need.” 

With reductions on the minds of the council, one of the items in the drawings was earmarked for the cutting floor by Chapman. That was the elimination of a conference room that would serve as a meeting room. “I don’t think having a meeting room within this facility is a good idea. There’s too much going on with all the vehicle and personnel traffic,” expressed Chapman.

The higher priority was the thousands of dollars that are spent on vehicles that are sitting out in the elements, subject to rust and repair because of no interior room in the current facility; a key factor for elimination with a new building. This begged the question of how to education the public of the need for approving this project.

“We need to protect our assets. Our equipment is out there sitting on pallets. Consequently we are buying and repairing more vehicles then we should have to. This is an area we need to look at,” shared Chapman.

“So how do we get the people to get out there and see what we have, see what we need and make them understand how this translates to a benefit for cost conscience voters?” asked Fortier.
“I think we’re at a point where the majority of the people in this town did not actually get a chance to learn about it and form an opinion. I just don’t think 133 votes in such a small turnout is a loss, but I don’t think it is a resounding no from the town,” said Councilman Jarrod Maxwell.

The end result of the meeting was unanimous, that this proposal goes back out to the voters. With little time to get it out again, the town is also fighting against the communication gap and engaging the public. “We are going to have to hold several meetings, put it on social media like what was done with the Comprehensive Plan on YouTube, and also utilize list serve,” replied Chapman.
In addition to this Plante said, “We need to put together a team in the next 60 days to do a systematic review to see if there are areas that can be changed without compromising the integrity of the build and identify any tradeoffs and come back with that.”

FMI visit the town’s web site at http://windhammaine.us/

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