UNION — Emails exchanged between representatives of the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office and the town of Union indicate the Thompson Community Center can no longer be legally occupied.

This supports the Union Select Board vote in December 2022 to terminate all current leases at the end of January and close the building for the winter.

Union Select Board Chair Adam Fuller said in a Jan. 13 interview that he interprets the emails to mean no one can occupy the building, and he will not be changing his vote in favor of the closure.

The emails, sent between Jan. 4 and Jan. 12, were the result of the Tuesday, Jan. 3, Select Board meeting where 20 people spoke at length about the community center.

Some speakers relayed information they said was from the Maine fire marshal and was contrary to the report Town Manager Jay Feyler gave in December 2022.

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, Feyler sent a letter via email to Greg Day and Peter Cummings of the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office seeking clarification in writing about the community center.

In the letter, Feyler said the conflicting information between what he was told and what some residents reported they were told by the Maine fire marshal was concerning for both the Select Board and residents.

“It is making it very difficult for us to make decisions, in this case life saving decisions, on what to do with the restraints we are currently under,” Feyler wrote.

These restraints are the result of a November 2022 referendum vote that town legal council said prohibits any work on the community center unless it is an emergency.

The referendum requires a new engineering report with updated costs and work needed for the TCC “before undertaking any repairs or renovations” on the building. This item passed with 875 yes votes and 553 votes of no.

Feyler reminded Day and Cummings about the vote and what it meant for the TCC. “Please base your answers on the fact no improvements or repairs will be done,” he wrote.

He also took the pair to task for continuing to communicate with others about the TCC after telling him they would not, and for giving ambiguous answers to those people.

“You stated to me emphatically that you would only be discussing the TCC with the Town Manager and if anyone else called … you would not talk to them,” he wrote. “However, at the Select Board meeting last night at least four people testified they had talked to you about the TCC.”

Some came away from those talks with a different understanding of the situation with the TCC, Feyler wrote.

“It is very important in our professions to give clear and consistent information to all parties, otherwise the public loses trust and faith in what they are told,” Feyler wrote. “Our (Select Board) meeting last night is a perfect example of that and there is now more mistrust in both of our offices. So basically, the public and elected officials are not believing either of our offices at this point.”

The response from Day, an inspection supervisor with the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office, came one week later on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Day wrote that the Fire Marshal’s Office wished to continue a good working relationship with the town and described three “deficiencies” in the TCC that had to be corrected “as soon as possible.”

Day said work was needed on the fire alarm system, the boiler room and the electrical system.

Fuller responded to this email a few hours later, thanking Day for his response but expressing further concern there was still no direct answer.

“This response does not address or give me … a clear answer to the question,” Fuller wrote. The town was aware of the issues Day outlined, but was not able to act on them. Also, the town was moving forward to sell half of the building, so the board did not plan to act on those items in the future, either.

“We cannot, and will not, be taking any steps or committing to taking any steps in the future to address these issues,” he wrote.

Fuller then wrote he was “desperately seeking a clear answer” about whether the town could keep the building open and operating under these circumstances.

The decision whether to close the building or keep it open was the Select Board’s responsibility, Fuller wrote, but the board required a clear answer from the State Fire Marshal’s Office to make an informed decision.

When Fuller did not receive a response by almost 1:30 p.m. the next day, he sent Day and Cummings a second email.

“If for whatever reason you are unable to provide me with a clear answer … let me know that so that I am not wasting time continuing to reach out,” he requested. He also asked the pair to tell any citizens the same if that was the case.

Day replied a few hours later, indicating he had been unable to answer earlier.

“The difference between last summer and now is last summer we were working on (an) approved plan of correction that items were going to get completed,” Day wrote. “Now you are telling us that nothing is going to be completed and there is no acceptable plan of correction.”

Day then shared the conditions for occupancy under Maine’s Life Safety Code, chapter four:

“No new construction or existing building shall be occupied in whole or in part in violation of the provisions of this Code, unless the following conditions exist: (1) A plan of correction has been approved.”

Fuller said in the Jan. 13 interview that while Day still did not directly answer the questions, his use of the word “difference” indicated a change from the previous arrangement that allowed the TCC to stay open and occupied.

Fuller added that Day noted the lack of an “acceptable plan of correction” at this time, and then shared the state code stipulating that an approved plan of correction was necessary for a building to remain occupied with life safety code violations.

While others had already interpreted Day’s email differently, Fuller said he understood it to mean the plan to close the TCC should continue to move forward.

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