Orleans To Seek $2 Million For Community Center Renovation

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , Community Preservation Act

Mark Mathison of the select board discusses a proposed application for $2 million in Community Preservation Act money to fund the renovation of the town's community center on Main Street on Nov. 17. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS -- The planned renovation of the Main Street community center promises to bring many improvements to the aging facility. But questions were raised last week about if and how the project will increase the functionality of the building.

The select board on Nov. 17 voted 5-0 to endorse the placement of an article seeking community preservation funds for construction on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May, but not before discussion was given to how the $2 million will improve upon the building's existing use.

"I have a hard time endorsing that right now," said select board member Mark Mathison, who expressed concern that more attention is being paid to beautifying the center than expanding upon its current use.

Plans for the renovated building call for a gallery/multi-purpose space, a large function area, a kitchenette area and improved restrooms and accessibility. There are also plans for a covered walkway leading from the center's rear parking lot near Cove Road out to the front of the building on Main Street. A roll-up door with windows is also planned for the front of the building in keeping with the center's origins as the town's first fire station.

The renovation also includes room for the Orleans Chamber of Commerce offices and the after school program run by Nauset Together We Can, which currently occupies space in the back of the building.

The select board in August voted to move the project into the final design phase. Alan McClennen, who chairs the community building renovation task force, said that the construction could be paid for entirely through Community Preservation Act funds earmarked for historic preservation, thanks in part to a $504,000 state matching grant for community preservation projects.

With that grant, McClennen said the community preservation committee, which oversees and makes recommendations on the use of the town's Community Preservation Act money, has about $2 million to work with in the upcoming grant cycle, applications for which were due Nov. 22.

But Mathison had reservations about the amount of the request. He noted the CPC voted in September against supporting $1 million toward the creation of affordable housing at the site of the former Masonic Lodge on Main Street.

"CPC said no to $1 million for 107 Main, but we're asking for $2 million to make a building look pretty," he said.

Select board member Andrea Reed disagreed. With improvements including functioning heat and air conditioning as well as additional restrooms, she said the building will be "absolutely improved" upon.

Select board member Kevin Galligan stressed the importance of keeping the building up to code, especially with middle school children participating in the after school program. He also cautioned that the project's $2 million price tag will only go up if the town waits to advance it.

"If we wait four years, this will be a $3 million renovation," he said.

McClennen said that more than 20 local organizations were using the center prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the building was closed along with other town facilities.

"[The center] is providing space for nonprofits and other groups that they can't get anywhere else," McClennen told the select board.

But Kyle Wibby, who is the board president for Nauset Together We Can, pressed the select board to allow more public input on the plans.

Construction on the center is anticipated to run from September 2022 to May or June 2023, McClennen said, this to avoid work during the summer months. But Wibby said that timetable would displace the after school program for almost the entirety of the 2022-2023 school year.

"The community involvement has been very rushed, and only at our demand," said Wibby, who participated in the meeting via Zoom. McClennen said the task force would work to try and find temporary space for the group's programming.

The Orleans Community Partnership enters into a license agreement with the select board annually to operate the community center. Wibby noted that it's his group that pays for the license via rent paid on the center to the council.

Mathison, who eventually voted in favor of submitting an article for CPC funding, said when the work is complete he wants his board to assess how the building will be used in the future and by who. That could include some re-evaluation of the select board's arrangement with the partnership.

"I want to be certain that [the community center] is a community resource that can be used by the people that need it," he said.

McClennen reminded the board that its charge to the task force was to "look at the building," not at who uses it.

"They're your tenants," he said. "We can't tamper with them."

The select board also voted 5-0 Nov. 17 to put an item on a future agenda to look at the use and functionality of the community center after the renovation is complete.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com