Lots donation still a question

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Councilors are still undecided about whether to donate city-owned lots for students at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center to build homes.

Members of the Westbrook-Gorham Rotary Club, which handles the real estate transactions for the building trades program, made their case at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday for the city to donate four lots on the end of Dale Avenue for the vocational school program.

In previous years, the city has sold lots to be used for the program at a discounted price. The Rotary Club is asking for the city to donate this land because Dale Avenue doesn’t extend all the way to the lots, and the club said it would spend the money normally used to buy property on extending the road and the utilities – a project that’s estimated to cost $200,000.

The Committee of the Whole voted 4-2, with councilors Drew Gattine and John O’Hara opposed, to refer the issue to the City Council, with the provision that the Rotary Club would continue to meet with city staff to try to come up with an alternative plan by the time of the council meeting Monday. Councilor Dotty Aube was not present at the Committee of the Whole meeting.

Every two years, students in the building trades program construct one home. Next year, they will be finishing up a house on Everett Street, and the Rotary Club will have to secure a new lot before the following school year begins.

Members of the club said the lots on Dale Avenue are ideal because of their proximity to the school.

Planning Board member Paul Emery said at the meeting that he rode with the students on the bus to the site on Everett Street, and it took up a lot of the time they would have spent learning, because of its distance from the school.

“The time on site is the time a student takes his hands and makes them tools of his future trade,” he said. “They should have as much time on the site as possible.”

Judith Reidman, club president, said the lots should be donated because, unlike past lots purchased by the Rotary Club, these were “not something the city had to pay for.” The lots were given to the city by the first developer of Dale Avenue.

Councilor Mike Foley agreed that because they were donated to the city and the project is for the school, that giving them away would be well worth their educational value.

“I don’t think we should charge a dime for them,” he said.

Mayor Bruce Chuluda said he was supportive of the building trades program, but not getting any money for the lots, he said, is “a pill that’s tough for me to swallow.”

Council President Brendan Rielly suggested looking further into city-owned lots on Rochester and Haskell streets, which are already served by city roads and utilities.

The City Council will meet to further discuss the donation of the lots at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 114 at Westbrook High School.

Lots donation still a question