WILMINGTON -- The Historical Commission and its supporters didn't get to take vote they were waiting for at Town Meeting Saturday, but they got the result they wanted.
Residents voted 124-73 to table the question of whether to demolish the old Whitefield School and take it up again at next year's Town Meeting.
Demolition of the vacant 110-year-old schoolhouse, first brought up by the Board of Selectmen in late February, sparked tensions between the board and members of the Historical Commission.
The board had voted 4-1 ask Town Meeting whether the town-owned building should be torn down, citing the hazard created by its dilapidated condition.
Speaking at Town Meeting, Selectmen Lou Cimaglia, Mike McCoy and Judy O'Connell cautioned against conflating the building's age and sentimental value with historical significance that would merit efforts to rehabilitate it.
"History doesn't necessarily live in the physical presence of the building," O'Connell said. "The legacy of this town lives in all of you."
Selectman Mike Champoux, the one vote against putting the item on the warrant, said he wanted to first hear what the Historical Commission thought should be done.
"Let's put a Band-Aid on it for one year, and let them do their job and make a concerted expert recommendation," Champoux said.
Commission members asked for more time to seek outside preservation funding and develop alternatives that would preserve the only remaining early 20th century town building.
Town officials said bringing the building up to necessary standards will cost $5 million to $6 million.
The commission was notified of the board's interest in tearing down the building about a week after it was first discussed, Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Reynolds said. She compared that to being invited to a dinner party "when dessert was being served" and asked residents to allow the commission a chance to plot the best course.
"Just give us time to do our jobs," Reynolds said. "We're not asking that this building remain for 10 years. Just give us the time to find the money to possibly fix this building."
More than a dozen residents spoke on the school demolition, with most in favor of postponing it.
"Why the rush?" former School Committee member Mario Marchese asked. "We decided not do to anything about this building for the 17 years that I've been in town."
Before Town Meeting took up the Whitefield School issue, the first 25 articles on the 46-item warrant were acted upon unanimously with the only discussion consisting of the occasional request for more detail. That includes the passage of a $94,108,569 budget for the 2015 fiscal year.
The body also approved giving police the power to levy $50 fines to people who violate rules at town parks and recreation sites.
A sum of $50,000 was allocated for the Yentile Farm Development Committee to pursue design and cost estimate services for the next phase at Cross Street site. Town Manager Jeff Hull estimated building an outdoor recreation area there will cost $5.7 million when the project is complete.
On a 81-132 vote, Town Meeting rejected a proposed zoning change at 276 Lowell St. Homeowner Kevin Brennan has repeatedly sought the body's approval to change his lot's zoning from residential to general business, which he said would be necessary to sell his property that is bordered on two sides by business lots.
Residents who spoke against the change expressed concern that the rezoning would allow a developer to build a large gas station complex on Brennan's lot and the adjacent one.
"I feel for him, absolutely. However, he's going to move. We are not," Glenview Avenue resident Linda Romanzo said, drawing cheers. "We have to deal with what's left behind. What's left behind is an awful lot of traffic."
Just before the meeting was adjourned, Town Moderator Jim Stewart announced he won't seek re-election next year, making this his last annual Town Meeting. The crowd gave Stewart a standing ovation in recognition of his years of service to the town.
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