Bourne is ready to roll the dice.
The town will invest a quarter of a million dollars on the group looking to transform the shuttered Ella F. Hoxie Elementary School in Sagamore Beach into an arts, education and culture center.
People at Town Meeting Tuesday night voted overwhelmingly to approve Article 23 of the Annual Town Meeting warrant, awarding the Hoxie group with $250,000 in seed money to jump-start the new Hoxie Center at Sagamore Beach for Art, Science, Education and Culture. The measure, which was expected to be one of the more hotly discussed and debated articles on the warrant, proved to be the climax to two nights of Town Meeting as it was the final article voted on.
Bourne Finance Committee member William F. Grant presented the article, but told the audience that “in the interest of full disclosure,” he was the one member of the committee who did not vote in favor of the proposal. Mr. Grant was one of the Hoxie group’s biggest critics, calling the business plan flawed. He also criticized the group for not informing the committee that the Wampanoag tribe had dropped out of an agreement to open a language immersion school at the proposed center. The loss of the Wampanoag school reduced the new center’s revenue stream, he said.
Edward G. Emanuel of Sagamore Beach rose from the audience to also speak against the article. Mr. Emanuel listed a number of problems with the Hoxie school building, including asbestos, lead paint, no handicapped access or sprinkler system, and questioned whether the aging building could be renovated to meet current building codes. He added that the land the Hoxie sits on is prime real estate. He noted that residents had already voted to approve $590,000 in land purchases for open space in town, “and now we’re asked to turn over the [Hoxie] parcel free, plus $250,000.” He also questioned whether the Hoxie group would take out a bank loan that would result in the bank taking ownership of the building if the project fails.
“You really don’t know what’s going to happen here and it could slap us in the face,” he said.
Finance committee member Mary Jane Mastrangelo told the audience that a 2010 report compiled for the Capital Outlay Committee revealed that the best use for the Hoxie school land would be for a center similar to what the Hoxie group proposes. Ms. Mastrangelo also reminded the audience that the agreement with the Hoxie group includes a reverter clause that would return the building to the town in better condition if the project is not successful.
Half a dozen residents spoke in support of the article. Julie M. Keene of Sagamore Beach said that the new center would benefit the town in the same way that the community center does, providing a place for young and old alike in Sagamore Beach to participate in activities. Victoria A. Carr of Monument Beach said that many art programs in the public school system are being dismantled and the center would be a place for young people to “grow their art.” James A. Mulvey of Buzzards Bay said the center would be “a worthwhile experiment with little risk” to the town.
Moderator Robert W. Parady asked if anyone other than Mr. Emanuel wanted to speak against the article. No one stepped forward, so Mr. Parady called for a vote. Prior to discussion of the article, Kathleen A. Brennan of Cataumet requested that the vote be by secret ballot. Asked why she requested a secret ballot vote, Ms. Brennan said she felt some people might be voting in favor of the measure because they like the people involved “and that’s not what we should be spending money on.”
Ms. Brennan said she was opposed to the article because the building is “terrible and old” and the town already has an arts center. She specifically mentioned the Cataumet Art Center and that it showcases world-class art.
“It just seems foolish to me,” she said.
The balloting and vote counting took roughly 20 minutes. Mr. Parady then announced that a two-thirds majority, or 148 votes, would be needed for Article 23 to pass. He said that the count was 186 in favor and 36 opposed.
Following the meeting, Hoxie group co-founder Scott A. Fitzmaurice of Pocasset said that he was very pleased that people in town spoke up and the center is something they want to see happen.”
“It’s just nice to see the community come together around something really positive,” he said.