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Weekly Review: CLT seeks lease at Great Falls East

By Glenn E. Aho

Auburn City Manager

The Great Falls School story is long from over. After years of inaction, this City Council took a bold move toward resolution and finality—actions that have eluded prior city councils. Who would have known the motion to demolish the Great Falls School would have generated such debate, passion and action? This Auburn City Council is who.

It was only after the topics of Great Falls School and Community Little Theater were debated as separate issues did the logjam release enough so councilors could then speculate under what conditions the building could remain. The resounding response was that the building could remain under the condition that it was privately funded.

Contrary to what some might believe, not all community development is solely publically funded. There are many examples of where community development projects are either funded privately or through some private/public partnership. Yes, the Great Falls School (or, as some call it, the Great Falls Performing Arts Center) can go on without public funding.

Separating the Great Falls School from Community Little Theater allowed the City Council to take small steps toward solving a complex problem. The city’s primary concern is finances, of course, and the City Council continually hears the thunderous voices of our residents demanding that they lessen the property tax burden. We have left nearly no stone unturned, no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular that proverbial stone may be. The issue of Great Falls has been no different.

Today, another page in the history of the Great Falls School has turned, closing one chapter and opening another. This chapter is void of immediate destruction and full of hope that should meet the needs and wants of everyone. Equipped with City Council direction, city staff was able to assemble stakeholders to draw a strategy, plan and vision. In less than an hour, the future of Great Falls fell into place and caused the entire project to take on a whole new energy, perspective and community purpose.

First, the Great Falls School will be referred to as Great Falls East and Great Falls West. Great Falls East is the newer section facing Main Street, the home of Community Little Theater. It will be proposed that this section of the building be offered to CLT for a long-term lease, relieving the city of the financial burden while allowing the theater—and the social and cultural capital it represents—to continue.

CLT, not the city, will be the tenant and will be subleasing space to other tenants, all in an effort to make the building self-sustaining. What efforts can be done to move tenants from Great Falls West to East will be done, including offering whatever goodwill initiatives are possible to those who have made considerable investments into the West side of the building. Great Falls East will continue to be the home of CLT and company, supporting all of Auburn’s cultural and theatrical efforts.

Great Falls West, which is also known as the older section, will be severed from Great Falls East—at least mechanically. In other words, Great Falls West will be shut down and allowed to go without heat.

It is anticipated that Great Falls West could potentially be demolished, leaving Great Falls East—home to CLT—to stand alone. For the time being, efforts will be made to market Great Falls West for re-development. However, should the City Council want Great Falls West to be demolished, we do believe there is federal funding that could be used, as long as the area is re-developed into a park, providing recreational opportunities to the neighborhood. If the space is suitable for re-development, the City Council would certainly encourage the private investment.

Simplistic as this plan may appear, it is riddled with details that need to be ironed out along the way—as they say, the devil is in the details. Right, wrong, or indifferent as your feelings may have been with the City Council’s vote to raze the Great Falls School, it did prove to be an effective political means of forcing the issue and, in this particular case, generating a plausible solution.

Those who were troubled with the thought of CLT leaving Auburn can now demonstrate their financial support directly to CLT, as it will soon be launching a fundraising campaign of its own so that it eventually becomes a self-sustaining business.

The vote to raze Great Falls School was symbolic for the city council, which waned to bring closure to this complex issue. Past council efforts to do the very same thing were thwarted as the issue soon became muddied and mired until absolutely nothing changed.

Years of frustration led to the City Council’s vote to raze the building. Political maneuvers cannot always be taken at face value, or one runs the risk of misinterpreting the entire point. As former New York Yankees Coach Joe Torre said, it’s not what my players say that is important, but why they say it. Perhaps a bit unorthodox, the council’s process did work.

Consolidating Police and Fire. Grants Pass, Oregon may mean nothing to you—but it could. Grants Pass is the community Auburn public safety personnel chose to visit to learn everything possible as it relates to public safety service. Grants Pass is similar in size and function as Auburn and has over 20 years of providing public safety services. Our goal is to visit the city, learn what we can and return in hopes of delivering cost-saving measures to Auburn public safety and its residents.

This January, a team of Auburn police and fire personnel will travel to Grants Pass to learn everything it can about consolidating police and fire operations as it relates to operations and administration. Admittedly, the Maine concept of consolidation—which I liken to the “big bang theory”—is most certainly unattainable.

Under the Maine big-bang concept, employees would be entirely cross-trained to respond to fires and while on scene they could issue summonses if necessary—not exactly the results we’re looking for. We’re taking a more calculated and reasonable approach. There are administrative functions that, if consolidated, would benefit both the fire and police. Take accreditation, for example.

The best means of insuring our fire department is the best in the state is to pursue accreditation such that its standards of performance are based upon national standards. Our police personnel have already achieved that, and pursuing accreditation on the fire side will bring a level of standardization and best management practices to Auburn Fire that otherwise may never be achieved—at least to the same degree.

Our primary focus will be to learn what worked and what didn’t for the city of Grants Pass over the years. More specifically, we will be reviewing its administration structure and how it functions between police and fire. We believe there are cost savings to be realized by consolidating administration functions, even to the extent of utilizing each other’s resources on major scenes, based upon the National Incident Management System.

Placing our efforts upon common goals and values between fire and police, Police Chief Phil Crowell said we could see a very different outcome that would improve public safety services for the City of Auburn. Prevention and safety are examples of goals and values shared by both police and fire. Using our experience in Grants Pass will help use either confirm or deny that this approach will work. Regardless, it is our responsibility as public servants to look under this proverbial stone to see what results we may achieve that will help us to further provide superior services at an affordable cost.

Moving APD to Auburn Hall. Having Auburn Police relocate to Auburn Hall makes enough sense to now have the City Council consider the move by re-designating approved capital funds first earmarked for a new HVAC system at the Auburn Police Department to now the renovation of Auburn Hall.

The January 3 motion will call for the funds to be now designated for Auburn Hall renovations to accommodate moving the police department to the ground and third floors.

The entire project could be completed before fiscal year end, and we’re proposing the concept now so that the new fiscal year 2012 municipal budget reflects the change. Simultaneously, the City Council may need to think of what will become of the police department station at 1 Minot Avenue if it’s no longer necessary.

Reduced Snow Plowing. Many residents have asked if the recent road conditions were a result of the city’s reduced plowing plans. The answer is no. We’ve simply had some quick storms causing traditional-Maine-winter-slick roads.

The snow squall that blew through the area on Monday, December 20 contributed to 49 accidents in Auburn, 35 accidents in Lewiston, and more than 65 accidents in Portland. Deputy Public Works Director Denis D’Auteuil said although they anticipated the December 20 storm, weather forecasts predicted the squall to arrive around 6 p.m., not 3:30 p.m. The early arrival of the squall was unanticipated, and the city’s response had nothing to do with the reduced plowing schedule, which only affects plowing between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

The reduced plowing schedule includes reducing our 21 plow routes into 20, which means each plow route will take a bit longer to plow, thus causing a bit more snow to accumulate. If a plow route takes four hours and it’s snowing one inch per hour, there could be four or more inches of snow in the road before another plow truck is seen.

During the reduced plowing hours of 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., there will be 10 plow trucks instead of 20 trucks.  Of course, common sense will prevail in the event of a major blizzard. For example, given the nature of the blizzard-like conditions predicted for the December 27 storm, the Public Works was expected to be out in full force all evening long.

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