By Laura Dolce
January 31, 2009 2:59 PM
KENNEBUNK – Voters turned out in record numbers Saturday to defeat the Park Street School proposal, putting to rest a five-year debate over the former school.
Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said the 643 residents who packed the Kennebunk High School gym were the most to ever attend a Town Meeting in town.
So many turned out to vote, in fact, that the meeting started an hour late to accommodate those still lined up at the door.
It was clear from the number of people who left after the Park Street School vote that most had come to have their final say on a proposal to turn the old school into a combination community center/office building.
"I personally cannot afford this," resident Bruce Coyne told the crowd, which responded with applause.
Selectman Al Searles, while making note that supporters of the project said it would cost only $17 a year in additional taxes for the owner of a $285,000 home, itemized what he could purchase instead with that money.
His list included groceries like chopped meat, cereal, milk and fruit or eight gallons of gas.
His point, he said, is that many residents, himself included, are facing financial uncertainty.
"My job is in jeopardy right now," he said. "So I set out to figure out what I could do with $17."
John Costin, the community activist who helped spearhead the petition drive that brought the issue to vote, urged residents to take a long view of the costs.
"This is not about this year or even next," he said. "I agree with folks that this is not a great time, but we don't get another time."
Voters made sure of that as well.
Before the Park Street vote was taken a motion was made to make any vote taken that day final, meaning the issue could not be raised again.
That measure was approved resoundingly, which meant that Saturday's Park Street School vote was the final one residents would face.
Face it they did, voting overwhelmingly by a show of pink and purple cards to sell the school once and for all to non-profit Avesta.
The town's contract with Avesta now stands and the old school will become low-income senior housing.
Following the vote, Costin said he was pleased with the turnout and while disappointed, he saw the positives to come.
"I'm very happy it's Avesta doing the project," he said. "If the town's not going to keep it, I'm glad it's going to them."
Though more than half of the residents trooped out following the Park Street decision, seven more articles came up for vote.
Changes to the Floodplain Management Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance regarding docks and piers both passed with little discussion.
Several articles concerning a series of rear access roads designed to run from Post Office Square all the way up to Shape Drive and alleviate traffic along Route 1 north also passed with only a few questions being asked.
Residents seemed most excited by Tibbett's announcement of a traffic light at Post Office Square, cheering and clapping when it was discussed.
Following the votes, Tibbetts said he was very pleased with the way the voting had turned out, but even more so with how many had given up their Saturday morning to make their voices heard.
"It was tremendous," he said.