The former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property at 72 Pleasant St. in Waterville. Councilors are considering whether the city should purchase the property. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — City officials continue to wrestle with what will become of the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property as they search for a permanent place to hold City Council meetings that could double as a soup kitchen and emergency overnight shelter for the homeless.

Discussion about the church site at Middle and Pleasant streets continued at the council meeting Tuesday, with the council considering whether to authorize City Manager Steve Daly to investigate whether the city should buy the land.

Some at the meeting were concerned about what they thought were secret deals being made and rumors of plans to sell the rectory building to the group BACAS, which previously sought to buy the property. Mayor Jay Coelho sought to allay those concerns, saying he had gone to Daly with an idea that if the city bought the property it could then turn around and sell the rectory to BACAS for $150,000.

BACAS had wanted to buy the property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and turn it into an events center but pulled the proposal in August after receiving pushback from neighbors.

The Rev. Maureen Ausbrook, who heads up Starfish Village and is an advocate for homeless people, said her main concern is finding emergency overnight shelter in the winter and serving people hot, sit-down meals. She said she didn’t care where it is located, but it needs to happen.

Nancy Sanford, who works with Starfish Village, said Daly had spoken eloquently about Waterville’s renaissance at a ceremony last week.


“But Waterville cannot truly have a renaissance unless all people have a place to stay and food to eat and are supported in making their lives more stable,” Sanford said.

Councilors Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, and Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said they did not think the church was the right place for a council chamber. Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, said city officials have long said they do not want to be landlords and buying and leasing part of it would change that stance.

“By purchasing that property we would be kind of hypocritical of ourselves and be landlords,” Foss said.

Councilor Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, noted that the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter does a fine job helping the homeless and the shelter has offered overnight emergency housing. Green heads up the city’s housing committee.

“I think it’s important to know we have this incredible organization in our community and we have others who are working very hard on different aspects of this extremely complex problem,” Green said.

The city, she said, can help solve the issues if everyone works together.

“We do need to be collaborative, inventive, resourceful and invest in these vulnerable people in this community.”

In other matters, the council took the first of two votes needed to accept $32,904 from the Friends of Quarry Road to buy and install an alpine rope tow at Quarry Road Recreation Area to be used starting this winter; voted 7-0 to authorize the Police Department to adopt a K-9 program; and took a final, 6-1 vote to approve borrowing $5.28 million for capital improvements, including about $2 million for improvements and expansions to the North Street Recreation Area and Pine Ridge Recreation Area.

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