UNION — The future of the Thompson Community Center was the main discussion at Union’s Monday, May 23 public hearing.

More than 40 residents came out in person and 14 attended online to hear about the upcoming vote for the town-owned property, formerly the Union High School.

Select Board Chair Adam Fuller said the town needed voters to weigh in and tell the board which direction to take with the building, and grant them the authority to take those steps.

Fuller promised the board would make decisions in the best interest of the town after the vote. “This is our town,” Fuller said. “…We won’t take any wooden nickels.”

Union voters have five options to choose from on the June 14 ballot, which were laid out in a presentation for the public hearing. Included in these options are the town retaining control of the building, tearing the building down and various sale options.

Two of the sale options involve senior housing or a specific development proposal to be determined. One is an outright sale via real estate brokerage, with no specifications for future use.

Gail Hawes of the Committee for the Future of the Thompson Community Center explained the options during the presentation.

The committee compiled the five options for the vote, complete with estimated costs. Hawes said the committee did their best to present the information in a fair and accurate manner.

Hawes said the building has had some upgrades and the building structure is reported to be in great condition. A new sprinkler system has also been installed.

The roof is an immediate concern, Hawes said. It has been patched and repaired, but preserving the building means the roof is a top priority.

A major issue, Hawes said, is some structural damage that was found. This damage requires a new engineering study, and the space would need to be reinforced.

While the committee was discussing the options, Hawes said, a community space for the town was an idea that kept coming up.

Apartments and housing were also discussed frequently, and Hawes said it was possible with three of the options. Many old school buildings have been remodeled as housing, and Hawes showed photos from a tour of one such building.

If the town votes to keep the building, the committee has created a three-tiered approach to addressing the repairs. This option was estimated to cost between $890,500 to $2,000,460. The article authorizes the town to appropriate $285,500 to $465,500 for immediate needs with this option.

Hawes said there are other sources of funding that would be available to help make these repairs as well, such as grants.

The committee also spoke with town assessor, Jim Murphy, who said with no other revenue this option would add an extra $20 per year to property taxes for every $100,000 valuation.

The senior housing option has two identified paths, Hawes said. State or federal funding and historical renovation.

Selling to a developer would allow the Select Board to put the project out for bidding. The board would oversee the bidding and determine the project based on its merit and its benefit to the town.

To tear the building down, Hawes said, would cost between $201,040 and $498,000. The committee identified some unknowns with this option, and there are no grants or income streams available for this.

Selling the building outright also includes unknowns, Hawes said. However, this option would generate a quick income for the town, and then the building would no longer be town property.

Fuller thanked the committee for their hard work putting together the voting options and the presentation. “We owe them a lot,” he said.

Also discussed was the Clark Field property gift to the town.

This land, located on Heald Highway, was purchased by the William Pullen Trustees and is offered as a donation to the town “for any use determined to be in the best interest of the town.”

Fuller explained that this purchase was not made with taxpayer dollars. “Anyone pushing that narrative doesn’t understand how this works or is being malicious,” Fuller said.

The land is not desirable for development, Fuller said, but could be used as recreation space.

All donations to the town must be accepted by a vote according to state law.

Union voters will also be deciding if future Annual Town Meeting items will be only by secret ballot.

Town Manager Jay Feyler said he hears from young families that they cannot attend the open town meetings.

Feyler said while more people can vote on town meeting items by secret ballot, because the polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., people may be more uninformed about the items. The town would still hold public hearings, but residents do not have to attend the public hearing to vote.

Voting on elected officials and these warrant articles will be by secret ballot Tuesday, June 14 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

OAn open Town Meeting on other warrant articles, including the town budget, will be held Tuesday, June 21 at 7 p.m.

A recording of the public hearing can be viewed at townhallstreams.com/towns/union_me.

The crowd at the Union public hearing May 23. Photo by Christine Simmonds