AUGUSTA — The Planning Board unanimously approved on Tuesday the construction of a building to house the Augusta Food Bank on a now-vacant lot on Mount Vernon Avenue,.

The food bank, which provides food to Augusta and Manchester residents in need, will move from its current location at 9 Summer St. to 161 Mount Vernon Ave.

Officials said the new building will have, unlike the current site, enough space for clients to wait inside to pick up their food, and also will include space for food to be both stored and distributed at a single location, increasing efficiency.

Currently, the food bank is in the St. Mark’s Church’s parish hall on Summer Street, where it has a distribution center; but there is limited storage space in the portion of the building it rents there. Much of the food it receives, before it is ready for distribution, is stored in a warehouse off Bangor Street, forcing staff members and volunteers to spend time traveling from one to the other.

The St. Mark’s parish hall, which also is home to a clothing bank, a warming center and an essential items pantry, is for sale.

Daniel Wathen, president of the food bank’s board of directors, said the group plans to break ground around June 1, with construction expected to take three to four months.

Wathen said the food bank is open only a couple of hours per day most days of the week, but it fills a great need in that short amount of time.

“It’s not a very intense use, but it is a very important use,” Wathen said, noting the food bank served 3,300 people last year, including 350 to 450 families a month. “We think it’s a vital service to our community and look forward to this opportunity to develop, for the first time in 35 years, a permanent and consolidated location.”

Wathen said the current location doesn’t have a waiting area, so clients wait outside before coming in to pick up their food.

The new spot will have parking for 22 vehicles and a waiting room with seating for 26 people.

Duane Henderson, a neighbor to the project site, said he thought it is good the building will have a waiting room so people won’t have to wait outside.

Board members approved the proposal with little debate.

“I think this is a wonderful project,” said A. Delaine Nye, a board member. “I think the food pantry has needed this for a long, long time. Instead of working in a building retrofitted, they’ll be working in a building built to be a food pantry. This is great for the community.”

Peter Pare, board member, questioned whether a crosswalk could be needed if many clients walk to the food bank. The sidewalk in the area is on the opposite side of Mount Vernon Avenue.

Lionel Cayer, city engineer, said the city’s traffic-calming committee could look at that issue once the food bank opens and could recommend a crosswalk be added there, if needed.

Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, said the building is likely to cost about $675,000.

Food bank leaders are planning a fundraising drive, with a capital campaign expected to enter its public phase June 1, to pay for the new facility. They’ve secured a temporary loan from the Genesis Fund to pay for the initial construction costs.

Both the current St. Mark’s location and the planned new Mount Vernon Avenue location are near residential areas.

Wathen said in recent years food bank officials informally surveyed clients to ask if there was an area of the city they would find it hard to get to, if the food bank were to move. He said most responded that as long as it moved to elsewhere within the city limits, they could still go there to pick up food.

The site will have a loading dock for vans and room for tractor-trailers to make deliveries of food.

Wathen said the site probably will have only one regular tractor trailer delivery a month, from Good Shepherd Food Bank. However, he said sometimes trucks full of food get “stranded” in the area, such as when a delivery to a supermarket is refused, and the truck driver wants to give away the food. As a result, he said, it is good that the site can accept such deliveries by tractor-trailer.

The city granted a waiver to allow the parking lot entrance to be larger than the usual 24-foot maximum width, to provide space for tractor-trailers to get to the building without backing in from Mount Vernon Avenue.

The food bank now is open from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Mondays.

The proposed two-story, 4,100 square-foot building would be built on a vacant, 1.3-acre lot that was donated to the food bank by local resident Norman Pomerleau.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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