UNION — In a surprise move, the Union Select Board voted Tuesday, Dec. 20 to terminate all leases at the Thompson Community Center at the end of January, 2023, then winterize and close the building until proposals for development are finished and accepted.

Town Manager and Public Information Officer Jay Feyler released a statement Wednesday morning, Dec. 21, about the decision, citing multiple reasons.

“The passing of the November warrant article stopping any additional spending on upgrades or repairs tied the (Select Board’s) hands in keeping the building open,” Feyler wrote. “That along with the wide gap in revenues vs. expenses and the concerns of the Fire Marshal’s Office of the life safety deficiencies were all factors in their decision.”

Feyler’s statement also included the Select Board plan for the Thompson’s Treasures thrift store which operates out of the building.

“The (Select Board) realizes the great service the thrift shop offers citizens,” Feyler wrote, “and has authorized the town manager to search for a temporary location for the thrift shop until a permanent location can be secured.”

The board was not scheduled to hold a vote on the building at this meeting, but board member Wayne Kirkpatrick made the motion to end all leases and close the TCC after hearing Feyler’s report about a meeting with the Office of the State Fire Marshal on Monday, Dec. 19.

Feyler said the Fire Marshal had “life safety concerns” with the current condition of the building, and outlined a number of expensive requirements to continue operations. These included a full building electrical inspection plus work on the fire alarm, the septic system and the boiler.

Kirkpatrick then said the recommendations and list of requirements, combined with the events of the last month where a community member was accused of overstepping his boundaries and asked to withdraw from a town committee on the TCC, he thought the town should close the building for the time being.

“I think we should mothball it; I think we should drain it,” Kirpatrick said.

This would allow the town time to perform necessary repairs on the building and decide on a proposal for the building, he said, “so we have a community building down the road.”

After some discussion with other members of the Select Board, Kirkpatrick made the motion to terminate the leases and close the TCC until a proposal for development was approved.

Jim Justice seconded the motion.

Justice, Kirkpatrick and Select Board Chair Adam Fuller voted in favor of the motion.

William Packard voted against the motion.

Board member Martha Johnston-Nash is also on the nonprofit Thompson Management Association, so she was unable to vote on the motion. Johnston-Nash did express concern that the community center was not on the agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 20 meeting, and so members of the community did not know this discussion or vote would happen.

Feyler also posted about the decision on the “Union Maine USA” Facebook page, an unofficial page he operates to disseminate information to Union residents.

In this post, Feyler clarified that the Select Board has already begun work with the organization Midcoast Council of Governments to accept proposals “to develop the yellow building while continuing the use of the brick building for recreational uses and community events.”

In June, the town presented voters with five options for the Thompson Community Center, and residents decided the town would retain ownership of the building and begin renovations and repairs.

Residents then presented a citizen’s petition regarding the community center. The petition stated the town would “obtain an engineering feasibility report” on the building with updated prices and work needed before taking on any repairs or renovations.

This item passed in the November election with 875 yes votes and 553 votes of no.

The town attorney determined this means no additional work can happen on the building unless it is an emergency, Feyler said.

Erik Amundsen, Vice President of the Thompson Memorial Association, said in a Dec. 21 interview the nonprofit organization would hold a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 21 and discuss this decision.

Amundsen said it was a shame the Select Board had made this decision, and expressed concern for the community members who use the building.

“A lot of people will probably be devastated by this, because this building is being used,” Amundsen said.

Amundsen said he disagreed with the notion the building was not making money, and said income from the thrift store and pickleball continued to increase and there were other income streams as well.

“Everyone is pretty sad about the whole thing,” Amundsen said.

A recording of the meeting can be viewed at townhallstreams.com/towns/union_me. The next Union Select Board meeting is Jan. 3, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. in the William Pullen Meeting Room.

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