UNION — The Union Select Board did not take any action after a lengthy discussion with members of the public regarding the board’s December decision to close the Thompson Community Center for the winter, though board members did say they would seek further clarification from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Twenty people spoke at the Tuesday, Jan. 3 meeting of the Select Board, mostly residents of the town. Many who spoke said they use the community center and were unhappy with the board’s decision, though some speakers supported the closure.

Those against the closure of the building spoke about the importance of the community center to the people who use it, argued the building could remain open and operational, and expressed displeasure about how the vote was taken.

Others said they did not want more of their tax money going to the building and questioned whether those in favor of keeping the building open represented the majority of Union residents.

Members of the board responded to comments and defended their vote as well as the way it was taken.

Residents Lawrence Nash and Elaine Frost criticized the board for holding the discussion and vote without the action being on that meeting’s agenda.

Nash said while The Courier-Gazette called the vote “a surprise move,” he had another term for it. “I call it good old backroom, good old boy politics,” Nash said. He expected better from his elected officials, he said.

Frost said she had always been told agenda items must be published ahead of time so residents could attend and participate. Frost said the vote to close the TCC was made giving notice to residents, so she asked the board to reconsider the matter.

Chair Adam Fuller said timing prevented the closure from being on the agenda, but the building had been discussed at length at every Select Board meeting for the last two years. “That’s a hard sell for me, to think (the vote) came out of the blue,” he said.

While he understood there was public distaste from that specific vote not being on the agenda, Fuller said the vote was a response to new information rather than a malicious move.

Fuller said members of the Union Select Board had sole discretion over the building and could make any motion for the TCC without it being on the agenda.

Multiple residents spoke about the importance of the activities they participated in at the Thompson Community Center, how many people participated in these events, and what benefits they received.

They said the community center provides recreational and socialization opportunities for many residents, which is especially important during winter.

Janice Linscott said she and others use the TCC for a safe place to walk and wondered where they would go once the building was closed for the winter.

Some speakers mentioned the importance of the thrift store which operates out of the building, and that many residents relied on that store.

The Select Board has authorized a plan to relocate the thrift store to a new location.

Fuller said the closure of the building was a short-term solution while the town continued to move forward with the Midcoast Council of Governments to develop part of the building. This plan was still moving forward despite the vote to close for the winter.

Fuller later said there was a possibility the building could open again once the need for heating fuel was over for the season.

Board member Wayne Kirkpatrick, who made the December motion, said the vote was prompted by concerns from the Office of the State Fire Marshal combined with the November referendum item on the building which prohibited the town from spending money on repairs or upkeep of the building.

This referendum 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. It passed with 875 yes votes and 553 votes of no.

Resident Catherine Meyer presented a financial report which showed the TCC would make enough income to stay open until at least October.

Fuller said it was not just the operating costs which prompted the board’s decision. The Fire Marshal wanted certain issues dealt with, and the November referendum vote would not allow that.

Even if the town could find a loophole to perform the repairs, Fuller said, he would likely not support it.

“The town voted to stop all spending,” Fuller said. “…Full stop. They were very clear about that.”

After reviewing the requirements from representatives of the Office of the State Fire Marshal, which apparently varied, Fuller said the board would need more information from that office.

The December vote would stand until that time, though, and Fuller added he was not sure if more information would change the results either.

A recording of the meeting can be viewed at townhallstreams.com/towns/union_me. The next Union Select Board meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the William Pullen Meeting Room.

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