At its meeting on September 6, 2022, the City Council voted to accept the return of the Veterans Memorial Gymnasium to the care, custody and control of the City for non-school use. The building was built in 1949 and remodeled in the 1980s. The Gym will be used for a Community Center run by the Parks and Recreation Department.
Returning the Gym to City control has been in the works for the past couple of years. Since building the new High School and remodeling the other schools, the School Department has sufficient facilities for most of its needs. The School Committee authorized the transfer at its August 15 meeting.
Council members discussed various facilities within the property. The lower level has a kitchen with a walk-in freezer, and there is office space as well. Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio said if the School Department no longer needs the freezer, she would like to offer it to the Sanford Backpack Program or other organizations that address food insecurity in the community. The building will continue to be used as a cooling center during heat waves and a warming center during winter emergencies. The Willard School building next door and the Memorial Gym are connected by an underground tunnel, which will remain open as an emergency fire exit for the school.
Parks and Recreation Director Brady Lloyd told the Council that six new pickleball courts have just been striped and a new curtain installed down the middle of the Gym. Parks and Rec has a very active pickleball group that plays at the Carpentier Park courts in the summer and has been playing on four courts at the Nasson Community Center in the winter. Last winter he estimates there were 30-40 regular players. It is a drop-in program, players pay $4 for three hours of game time. Plans are for pickleball to be held at the gym on weekday mornings, and possibly on Sundays and a few weeknights as well.
Mr. Lloyd said he hopes to line up other recreational programming for the building for the fall and winter but nothing has been finalized yet. He told the Council, “We are beyond excited…thank you all for this opportunity.” Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy called the Gym “an amazing structure.” Mayor Mastraccio said “This is a whole new era for the Gym, which has a lot of meaning for a lot of people…we are all excited.”
Mr. Lloyd said he has a long list of people wanting to rent the Gym, but is holding off until a new fee schedule can be approved by the Council, which is anticipated to happen at its next meeting on September 20. He will meet with the Council’s Municipal Operations and Property Subcommittee next week to go over it. He anticipates the fee schedule may change over time as Parks and Rec grows into the facility and learns more about the costs associated with running it. The City will have first priority for use of the building, followed by the School Department, then Sanford organizations. It will be available for rent to the public and out-of-town groups whenever it is not in use.
City Manager Steve Buck said maintenance of the Gym will include significant heating and electricity costs, but it will also generate tens of thousands of dollars in revenue from programming and rental fees. Cots and other supplies related to its use as an emergency shelter have been stored offsite in rented space, but may be able to be stored in the building now, saving that expense.
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