Union residents turned out in large numbers Saturday morning, Jan. 20, to overwhelmingly reject a proposal to allow the selectmen to sell or lease the historic Thompson Community Center for elderly housing.

Residents spent nearly an hour debating the pros and cons of the proposal before voting 137 to 47 against the warrant article at the Jan. 20 special town meeting.

Lori Carlson, executive director of the Thompson Community Center, urged residents to reject the article and keep Thompson Community as town-owned.

She said the building is not in as bad condition as some people have said. She said some repairs have been held off because of the uncertainty of the future ownership.

She also said that the daycare center was at risk if the deal was approved.

The center has, among other tenants, a thrift shop, a food pantry, and the daycare center.

Abraham Knight, a former director of the Thompson Community Center and former custodian at the building, said turning the building over to Penquis would be a win-win situation for the town.

He said the landmark building would be preserved and elderly housing would be created and Union residents could apply to live there.

He said the building needs a lot of work, including replacement of siding and  windowsills. The sprinkler system has not been extended to the entire building and the furnace is old, he said.

He asked if people would be willing to volunteer their time to keep up the building or would they fade back into the woodwork once the vote was taken.

Jason Bird, housing development director for Penquis, said that 25 to 30 housing units were being considered.

He said prior to the vote that Penquis would not be offended if residents rejected the proposal.

Town Manager Jay Feyler had said if voters approved the article on the town meeting warrant, a committee would be formed to negotiate a deal.

Martha Johnston Nash warned that once the town gave away the building, it would be gone forever.

Sharon Osborne said Carlson has done a "fantastic" job operating the building and asked what the town would be without the building.

Bird said Penquis would not need the gymnasium part of the building and that could be used for other community purposes.

The nonprofit Thompson Community Center Inc. has had a lease with the town since 1989 at $1 a year. There are also a few businesses using space in the building.

The organization's financial report for 2016-2017 reported income of $138,250 and expenses of $104,723.

The Thompson Community Center consists of an older wooden section and a newer brick portion.

The yellow wooden building was constructed in 1923 and the brick addition was erected in the 1950s.

The building was once Union High School, which operated until the construction of Medomak Valley High School. The building was then used as town offices until the current municipal building was constructed.