OAKLAND — The town council has abandoned its plan to buy and renovate St. Theresa Church after estimated costs exceeded a $1 million ceiling for funding projects without voter approval.

In an interview Monday, Town Manager Gary Bowman said that asbestos and lead removal, roof replacement and the near-certainty of other unexpected expenses scuttled the proposed project.

“It’s disheartening,” Bowman said. “The building had a lot of potential, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to happen.”

The proposal to buy the church and attached rectory at 35 Church St. and convert the buildings into municipal offices and meeting space was one of his first major actions since taking over as town manager last September, Bowman said.

The 2,324-square-foot rectory, built in 1960, would have been renovated as office space, while the 4,513-square-foot late 19th century church would have been used as a venue for community gatherings.

Unexpectedly high costs and unforeseen problems with the building finally led him to recommend pulling the plug, Bowman said.

The town council voted unanimously at its meeting March 11 to back out of the sale through a due diligence clause included in a purchase and sale agreement signed last month with the Catholic Diocese in Portland.

The clause gave the town 120 days to examine the building for specific areas of concern, including general building condition, water and air quality and code conformance.

While the town agreed to pay $150,000 for the building, the cost to renovate only the church rectory was close to $800,000, according to a contractor’s estimate provided late last month.

Asbestos and lead remediation in the rectory could add $50,000 to the cost, according to an estimate provided to the town by Acadia Contractors.

By last week, the total estimated cost of the project was about $998,900, but further evaluation of the buildings indicated that total spending was likely to go much higher, Bowman said. For example, after examining the building, the Maine Municipal Association, as the town’s insurance carrier, said it could not insure the property unless the entire roof was replaced.

An investigation of the church showed numerous areas of water damage, mold blooms, frozen pipes and cracked plaster, Bowman said, issues that were not covered in the initial construction estimate.

The high price plus the likely discovery of more issues with the buildings would “far exceed” the $1 million spending limit in the town charter for any single expenditure without a ballot referendum, Bowman told councilors last week.

According to the charter, spending above that limit has to be approved by voters in a November ballot referendum. With the 120-day limit on its purchase contract, the town would not have enough time to schedule a vote on the proposal.

After consideration, Town Councilors decided the project would impose too much of a cost on taxpayers, Town Council Chairman Mike Perkins said in an interview Monday.

“It got to the point where we would be throwing good money after bad,” he said.

In a March 12 email to Kevin Fletcher, the real estate agent from Portland-based Malone Commercial Brokers, the company that handled the proposed sale for the diocese, Bowman explained the reasons the town was pulling out of the agreement and outlined the issues it had found with the buildings.

The diocese has agreed to return the $5,000 deposit the town put down for the building, Bowman said.

The church was last used for religious services in 2012.

In an interview earlier this month, Fletcher said that his company was still receiving inquiries about the building, even while it was under contract to the town.

Even though the project didn’t pan out, Bowman said it “would have been a dereliction of duty” if he had not pursued the proposal.

“There were so many benefits of the church,” he noted. The building would have given Oakland’s town office a position on Church Street near other community buildings and provided a central space for community gatherings while reusing a town landmark that has special meaning for a lot of residents, Bowman said.

With the St. Theresa’s deal dead, Bowman and the council are turning their attention to the problems of the Fairfield Street police station.

The station, housed in a turn-of-the-century two-story home, is cramped, does not meet standards for people with disabilities, and could be unsafe for officers, Bowman said. The police were planning to move into the neighboring town office building, but without the church sale, the town needs to look at other options.

While he doesn’t expect to propose another large project like the $4.5 million municipal complex voters rejected five years ago, Bowman said new police department construction could be considered.

The council is already planning to discuss options to house the town’s police, Perkins added.

“We are going to be taking a look at that soon,” he said. “The police department has to be taken care of.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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