2017-11-10 / Front Page

Should Alfred buy the old county jail for a Town Hall?

Selectmen want residents thoughts
Senior Staff Writer

ALFRED — Cramped for space and nowhere to expand, the town of Alfred has been eyeing the old, vacant 1869 York County Jail  just down Saco Road from the current Town Hall.

It is for sale, with a  $250,000 asking price, and Alfred selectmen say an engineer has looked it over and pronounced the building structurally sound.

Before they go any further, selectmen want to talk to townspeople and listen to what they have to say about the possibilities.

So they’ve scheduled an informational  meeting for 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at Conant Chapel of Alfred Congregational Church, next door to Town Hall.

Right now there are no estimates on what it would cost to convert the structure, though selectmen plan to seek them, and hope at least some figures will be available for the meeting.

They have done some preliminary work, said selectmen’s board chairman Tony Palminteri. He said that had the information they’ve received so far not been positive, they wouldn’t be seeking to go further. 

He said an engineer had pronounced the old jail building structurally “excellent.”  They’ve had some preliminary plans drawn up for the 14,000 square foot, three-story structure. And they’ve talked to staff to get their ideas, Palminteri said.

Selectmen have used $4,800 from their discretionary fund for the work done on the idea to date, but have said they don’t plan to spend more until they present the idea to townspeople and hear their thoughts.

“We’ve decided to get estimates,  which are free,” said Palminteri, “But we didn’t want Alfred residents to get blindsided.” Palminteri said the selectmen’s board works hard to be transparent.

As to the current Town Hall, there is no room to expand. Offices are small, and staff, boards and committees can’t conduct two meetings at the same time because there’s no where to hold them. The second floor does get used occasionally, but selectmen are mindful it doesn’t have an elevator or chair lift for someone who might need one,  and the conference room on the first floor holds about 15 people.

Palminteri said storage is “maxed out,” and even the vault is full.  He said Maine State Police have told them the building doesn’t meet current security requirements. And he pointed out, voting has to take place at the chapel next door because there’s no room in the Town Hall to do so.

The old county jail, built in 1869, ceased to be used to hold prisoners in the early 1970s when a new jail — also since replaced — was constructed on Route 4. The old jail building was then used in the early days of the York County Shelter, and was then vacant for some time until a prior York County Commissioners board sold it to Michael Kaplan of Portland for $2,501 in 2000. The building has been leased  for a series of businesses ventures over time,  but is currently vacant.

Kaplan told the Associated Press in September he is putting the property on the market  because he wants it to be put to good use.

Alfred s growing and while the population is around 3,000, treasurer Fred Holt said there were 17 new homes built in town last year. And with the town recently selling 60 acres it owned to Keywood Manor, a seniors' community in the southern part of the town, there is the potential for many more new homes to be built.

Palminteri and selectman George Donovan said if the townspeople eventually choose to move forward with the plan, the town would consider a bond to renovate the old jail into a modern Town Hall, but keep the historic brick exterior. Right now, the town has two bonds — one on an ambulance that is expiring in two years and one on the transfer station, expiring in three years, said Holt.

If it looks like the project will move forward, the town would put together a building committee and a subcommittee to look at what might happen with the current building.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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