Desserts, hardball questions and responses from representatives from Chebeague and North Haven’s community halls were featured at an informational meeting organized by the Islesboro Community Center board and attended by a about 100 Islesboro summer and year-round residents.
Edie Konesni and John Mitchell, Co-Chairs of the Islesboro Community Center board of directors, welcomed participants and outlined the project. Mitchell recalled the early days of Islesboro Community Hall, where he roller-skated as a youngster. Dudley Ladd of the board’s fundraising committee announced that the project has already raised $1.2 million towards a $3 million goal. The audience then heard from Keely Felton, recently of Waterman’s Center on North Haven, and Gail Miller, currently pool director at the Chebeague Recreation Center. Both women presented slide shows about their respective community centers, describing their organizations’ histories, buildings and programs.
The Islesboro Community Center board has been in existence for seven years, and has explored several locations on the island for a center. When it became clear that the community favored as central a location as possible, the group was able to buy back from a private owner the old Community Hall building, which had roots to the 1850s. The building stands at the corner of the Mill Creek Road and Pendleton Point Rd, only a few yards away from the Second Baptist Church and the Post Office. The old hall was sold after the construction of the Kinnicutt Center at the Islesboro Central School in the mid-1980s but in the intervening 20 years it became evident that the Kinnicutt Center would be wholly engaged by the school, leaving little opportunity for community activity in the space.
Health and fitness, teen activities, messy arts (like pottery), activities for children and meeting rooms characterize both the Chebeague and North Haven community centers, and the proposed Islesboro one. Chebeague has a swimming pool, and North Haven has a theatre and coffee shop. Islesboro will also have a coffee shop and a performance stage.
Both the North Haven and Chebeague projects faced some public resistance. On North Haven, as on Islesboro now, the school needed attention, and some felt it ought to get it first. In both places, there was public concern that the building would end up a town responsibility with adverse impact on taxes. However, in both cases, private money was raised for construction, and the buildings and programs are supported by program fees and grants.
Waterman’s Center is three and a half years old years old and the Chebeague project is ten years old. Felton reported that Waterman’s Center, which, like Islesboro’s project, cost about $3 million, hopes to develop an endowment fund, but will wait until the town’s school project is finished before beginning to raise money.
In response to a question about how the Islesboro Community Hall will be supported, Dudley Ladd responded that a combination of memberships, program fees, an ATM machine, grants, annual appeal and fundraising events, and eventually an endowment fund will pay for on going expenses including a full-time director. The other island centers have hired full-time directors plus part-time help and custodial or cleaning help. Many volunteers provide the balance of staffing, said Miller and Felton.
One questioner asked if the Community Center group would ask the town to take over the hall in a few years if it proved not to be viable. John Mitchell said, “no.”
Questions arose about how much it would cost to sign up for programs and whether would it cost money each time a person came in to use the community hall. Dudley Ladd responded that every attempt will be made to keep programs affordable. According to Campaign Coordinator Priscilla Fort, paid membership will only be required for use of the fitness center. There will be optional memberships in exchange for certain discounts or benefits, but no one will need to be a member of the community center to come in and have a cup of coffee. Classes and events will continue to charge fees as they do currently in other locations.
Board member Lisa Satchfield illustrated one funding model already in place for the teen center. With grant money and donations from the Christ Church Centennial Fund and the Baptist Sewing Circle to carry the largest part of the expense, the teen center (nicknamed The Zone) is able to offer classes in Tai Kwan Do for a charge of $5 per child.
Gail Miller reported that Chebeague, with a summer population of 2,000 and a year round population of 350, finds that there are enough participants in such programs as summer camps who can afford the full fee to allow some youngsters in at a discount.
Information sheets available on each table showed the floor plan for the Islesboro Community Hall and its addition, overlooked by some people who asked about space for storage, yoga classes, and parking.
Parking has been a sticky point, even after the board developed a parking plan to satisfy Planning Board building application requirements. The Center identified 90 off-road parking places in the vicinity of the building, with plans for valet-style parking and shuttles from spaces by the Town Office, the Island Market, Baptist Church, and neighboring property.
One questioner asked “what good was a building that didn’t have close parking for older or handicapped people?” In fact 17 spots, including handicapped parking, are planned immediately next to the building. Felton pointed out that on North Haven, the Community Center had no off-street parking, but carpooling takes care of the problem, and rides are provided for seniors’ events. In addition, the Islesboro building will have an elevator for access to the second floor.
Felton and Miller both observed that they wished their respective centers had the number of rooms Islesboro’s group plans. Community center use on both North Haven and Chebeague has grown to the point where they could use more space. “I wish we had thought of a coatroom, we just end up piling the coats on the floor,” Miller said. Chebeague’s center is now the only place in town large enough to hold town meetings. Waterman’s, Felton said, started out with three tables for the coffee-shop area, but has expanded to eight. She said, “There were people who said, `I’ll never set foot in that building,’ but we see them in there now.”
Keely Felton first became involved in the project on North Haven as an Island Institute fellow.