Friday, January 31, 2014

The McLellan: Will it meet or exceed our low expectations?

Aye there, ye lads and lassies!  In wee Scotland, we have all sorts of time-honored classics that improve with age.  We have The Macallan, The Balvenie, and the Glenlivet among numerous others.  Most come in a variety of grades, differing in how long they’ve been aged, what their origins and pedigrees are, and what they’ve been aged in.  



We don’t see much here in the lowlands of Bonnie Brunswick that can match the best of the highlands of Scotland.  But you do have The McLellan, which has been aging in cedar clapboard and pine trim for nearly 16 years.  While we don’t detect any peat character, we do detect a subtle nose of diesel in The McLellan.  This distinctive note has revealed itself in the last year or so.  We’re not sure if it will add to the market value or detract from it.

Here you see The McLellan, about which we’ve written numerous times in the past, with a hint of the lowland area that gives it its unique identity.

Given the transition of town offices from the decrepit and shameful Federal Street facilities to The McLellan, the funds being invested in it’s preparation for becoming the seat of Cape Brunswick’s government, and the concerns about it’s underpinnings that had been reported to us, we decided to visit the place this week.

The good news is that our untrained eyes did not detect any glaring problems of a foundational nature, and those we talked to did not report any.  The bad news is that the exterior condition of the building is far worse than we thought and have reported in the past.

Before we get to that, let’s just say that the work going on inside on the first and second floors is far more extensive than we had expected.  It’s hard to tell what was original and what is new, but just about everything we looked was in one stage of construction or another.  And there were industrial sized dumpsters full of demo’ed materials.  It looked to us like a pretty thorough gutting and rebuild.

Here are some interior photos from our visit:




The above is of the council chambers, complete with dramatic overhead treatment for where the council will preside.  We have no way of knowing whether they will sit upon an elevated platform.


Next, here are some exterior shots, including missing trim, rotting trim and surrounding areas, and failed window seals, meaning the double pane benefit has been lost.






You may be tempted to believe these are only ‘cosmetic’ issues; that some sanding, scraping, repriming, and repainting will restore everything to ‘like new condition.’

We disagree.  As substantiation for our view, we have some extremely personal experience with the same circumstances on our own home, which was built in 1997. 

Generally speaking, paint does not deteriorate from the outside in.  Instead, it ‘fails’ because moisture comes in from behind and destroys the bond between the paint and the surface to which it was applied.

This typically means that the underlying material has already been compromised by moisture, leading to dry rot and related forms of decomposition.  That ‘rot’ can spread to adjacent vulnerable materials, including framing, insulation, and sheathing.

Want proof?  We’ve got your proof right here, showing what happened at our own house.  Here’s how the problem began, innocently enough, when our painter discovered a piece of trim that had begun to peel. the result of a construction anomaly and inappropriate caulking.


Here is the progression of damage that was uncovered, and the scale of repairs that were required to deal with it:










All beginning with this little problem area, we remind you:


Unfortunately, we had the same symptoms show up on the rear of our house a year later, necessitating removal of the double dutch doors, and replacement of significant amounts of framing, insulation, and siding, followed by full repaint.


So we look at the ‘cosmetic’ issues at The McLellan as probable symptoms of major, if not catastrophic underlying damage.  The repairs at our place ran into the tens of thousands, and were, fortunately, all covered by our insurance and that of the original contractors.

If you’ve been observant, you noticed similar repairs happening at a number of locations around town in recent years.  Among others, we remember when the Atlantic Federal Credit Union on inner Pleasant Street had a good deal of it’s upper façade stripped off and replaced due to moisture incursion.

Given the immense scale of The McLellan compared to Chez Side, we believe there is monumental liability regarding underlying building conditions, and substantial financial jeopardy for town taxpayers.  The figure of record at the moment is somewhere in the $1.1 to 1.2 million range.  We have the uncomfortable feeling that it could grow well beyond that.  Because we may find that no matter all the assurances, TRS has cropped up once again.


We trust the town council, in seeking its ‘new direction,’ will use due diligence in addressing this possibility, including at their meeting this coming Monday, during which they are scheduled to review the financial status of building adaptation to date.

We have the feeling it will require peeling back the exterior of major portions of the building.  Surely the newly structured council of our ‘peers’ will want to do the right thing, without any prodding from us.

We’re confident you feel the same way. 

You do, don’t you?

Friday Freebies Postscript

After we posted an FF item earlier today, we left for lunch downtown, as is our habit.  As Chance would have it, as he usually does, we stumbled (almost literally) upon two more items to pass along briefly.

We were strolling the Great Impasta/Frosty’s block on our way to the Big Top Deli.  As we did, we noticed that the condition of the brick paved sidewalks were the worst we could ever recall.  Besides the undulations, there were numerous cracked and crumbling pavers.


That’s bad enough.  For the first time, however, we came across sidewalk ‘potholes’ that had been patched with asphalt.  What a lovely site it was.  We’ll try to get a picture or two in the next few days.

We wonder now how long it will be before we hear about the need to ‘replace and/or rebuild the charming brick sidewalks that are vital to the economic vitality of the community.’  And that just like the schools, they’ve ‘reached their useful design lives, and if we don’t spend the money now, we’ll be making things much worse, and the town may have to shut down.’  Not to mention that ‘people move to Brunswick because of our great sidewalks.’

Any guesses as to how much it will cost?

The other item pertains to our dear student friends at Bowdoin, and the reports on their frolics in the Bowdoin Orient.  It’s been some time since we’ve found a copy at the Big Top, and the one we found today was relatively uninteresting, except for this tidbit in the ‘Security Report.’

• A student at an off-campus “No Pants Party” cut his leg on a shard of glass from a broken beer bottle. An officer escorted the student to Mid Coast Hospital.

We’re wondering whether the shard jumped up and cut his leg, or his leg lowered itself to the shard’s level.  It doesn’t matter of course, and we sincerely hope Mr. No Pants has fully recovered.

Friday Freebies

There are some scraps lying around on our writing table, and rather than go all nut-so on them one at a time, we thought we’d ‘aggregate’ them into an Other Side collage, as it were.  Should be enough to make you want a break from us….just long enough to watch the Commercial Bowl on Sunday.

MHPC Event in Brunswick Adds Segment

We posted here on an upcoming event to be held at the Inn at Brunswick Station next Thursday, February 6th.


Titled “Global Illusions - Bowdoin’s Post-Citizens and the Future of American Higher Education,” the event was initially scheduled to run from 11:30 to 2:30.

It has now grown to include a morning panel discussion running from 9:00 to 10:30, but the price is still the same – $35.

We hope to see some of you there.

For additional information, please contact Kate Clark by phone at 207-321-2550 or by e-mail at

Public Tells School Board to “Back Up The Truck”

“Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.”
Thomas Sowell

In the category of surprise, surprise, this Forecaster article tells how some of the usual suspects from the mommy mafia in the BCU are taking issue with proposed school construction plans.  In the process, they’re second guessing the ‘new directions’ instituted with the advent of the Harriet Beecher Stowe School and its linear village design.

The criticism expressed during a nearly three-hour meeting was less about the proposed school's estimated $24 million price tag and more about the educational philosophy supporting it.

Nevertheless, the applause that sometimes erupted from a large audience in response to speakers was an indication the board may not have the support it needs to ultimately pass a voter-approved school construction bond.

After reading the article, we had a slight case of the déjà vu vapors, coupled with an ‘excuse me’ stuck in our throat.  We recall all the emotional pleas for ‘school equity’ to overcome the ‘socio-economic’ disparity of various town neighborhoods. 

The idea was to throw away the idea of ‘neighborhood schools’ in favor of each and every grade being housed in only one school, so that, for example, EVERY second grader would attend the same school as all other second graders.  This, we were told, would eliminate the inequities of having second grade classes at multiple schools in neighborhoods of differing socio-economic profiles.

Well, golly gee, it seems that this ‘new philosophy’ has already proven itself to be unpopular, if not mis-guided, and may be about to run its course.  We, of course, had previously pointed out that unless EVERY second grader, for example, had the very same teacher (making for a very large class, but a smaller payroll), the notion of ‘equity’ was facetious, because teacher capability varies significantly.  Unless you think they are robots or drones, some kids get the best teacher, and some get the worst.

Speaking of the deja-vu part, we’re reminded that the ash-heap of breakthrough ‘education philosophy’ is still smoldering away from the ‘open classroom’ theory foisted upon a gullible public some decades ago.  This is the philosophy that drove the design of Jordan Acres School, which, in a moment of inattention, suffered severe structural damage caused by of all things, SNOW. 

Far be it from us to suggest that this was intentional inattention; but it’s not far from us to suggest that it was a ‘stroke of good fortune,’ applauded by many, including those who design and build new schools.

We have no idea how deeply the now less than loved philosophy drove the design of HBS, and how much it will complicate switching horses.  But we are confident that no matter what the initial estimates turn out to be, the final cost and impact will be significantly higher.  “It’s in their nature.”  “Numbers” Ellis is probably at work on the plan as we speak.


Brunswick Station and Public Art

If you have the stamina to read it, this packet for the upcoming town council meeting puts forth a proposal, to be privately funded by donations, it says, for a piece of art at our train/bus station that is shown in the photo below, superimposed through the magic of digital image manipulation. 

Which is a reminder that the old rule of ‘pictures can’t lie’ went the way of passenger trains. 

You’ll find the info on pages 8-11.


We couldn’t find a name for ‘the piece,’ but we’re thinking “Leaners” or “Three One Pointers” might capture the essence of it.  We did find this Artist Statement, however:

In my sculpture, I use curves and texture to mimic motion and emotion. I carve directly, developing a relationship with the stone instead of precisely copying a maquette. I embrace imperfection, and try to avoid perfect symmetry. I am constantly playing with the inter-relationship form has with itself. I strive for my artistic voice to come through my work, to touch, and connect with the viewer and pull them in.

I work to have my outdoor sculptures be part of their environment, to relate to the landscape; to hone the viewer's attention to the serenity of life and to develop a sense of place. The simplicity of the sculpture complements the complexity of its landscape. Stone has its own natural beauty, I aim to accentuate this and work alongside the stone's structure. When I start carving a block of stone, it feels as if it is static or asleep. Carving into each block pulls life into the stone, awakening the stone with each curve and angle. Each piece has its own passage to completion.

Oh how we wish we had his way with words, which seem to derive from the same school of aesthetics that animate the best of real estate advertisements.  But as you know if you come here frequently, we do ‘embrace imperfection,’ and we strive for our artistic voice to come through our work. 

The simplicity of our thoughts complements the complexity of our subjects.  When we start writing on a subject, it feels as if it’s asleep.  Carving out our words and punctuation ends up taking it beyond sleep, to a zombie-like state.


Which reminds us of a prior ‘public art installation’ at the Station, one that ‘integrated seamlessly with the very essence of the location,’ to ‘transport one through the medium of expression to a different world, where art is what art is.’


If you do choose to read the packet, don’t forget to read the cost update on McClellan transformation, which we assert will soon be proven woefully low.  And the opening discussions for a new community pool, which we may decide to christen Lake Basebegone.

Questions and the “Idiotic” Tally


“There are only two ways of telling the complete truth--anonymously and posthumously.”
Thomas Sowell

Yesterday’s post on ‘Questions’ has so far garnered two votes for ‘idiotic,’ which tells us at least two ‘readers’ don’t want to see the questions answered.

Any guesses who those two readers might be?  We have our own ideas.  Still, we offer an open-column policy for these nay-sayers to post their comments, if they can summon up the courage.


Compared to the other capers they’ve been engaged in around here, sending in the equivalent of a ‘tweet’ ought to be chump change for them.           

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

“Top Ten Questions” Brunswick’s inquiring minds should want answered. On second thought, maybe not.

Questions, we have questions.  And we get questions as well.  It occurs to us that inquiring minds and interested students here in our perfect, richest little town in America would like answers to these questions.  So we’re throwing them out…………there.

Some of them might even stick to a wall somewhere, but we doubt anyone in the know or ‘in authority’ will pull any off the wall and provide answers.  Come to think of it, maybe we should have them turned into ‘visual art’ and use them to paper the new council chambers in the old McClellan building.

To assist you in comprehending their profundity, we’re grouping them into subject areas.

Brunswick Development Corporation/Brunswick Taxi

  • Why didn’t Brunswick Taxi have to submit a written application to the BDC to receive its quarter million dollar totally forgivable ‘loan’?
  • Does Brunswick Taxi’s consultant Scott Howard have any stake in the CNG Station planned for Brunswick Landing?  Could that possibly be why the BDC $247,000 sum includes $12,000 for CNG conversion to the taxi fleet?
  • When will we find out how much Amtrak is paying Brunswick Taxi for crew transport services?  Especially since we have a quarter of a million dollars of pubic money invested in the company that holds the contract.
  • Why didn’t Amtrak simply buy or lease a vehicle or two for the crews to use for self-transport?   They could have driven it up from Portland and placed it in an inexpensive garage, and then used it the next day for a return trip to Portland.  We think that would save well over $100,000 a year.
  • How much was Scott Howard paid for his consulting role in obtaining the BDC ‘loan’ to Brunswick Taxi, and from where did the funds come?  The promissory note does not show any fund allocation to pay for his services.


  • Is the BDC issuing appropriate IRS documents to BT to establish that a ‘forgivable loan’ is income?


Amtrak Downeaster & Concord Trailways

  • When will the Brunswick Downtown Association and town officials herald Concord Trailways for their role in economic growth and vitality?


  • What does the Amtrak Downeaster train connection to Brunswick offer that Concord Trailways buses do not?
  • Why are locals so enamored with the Downeaster and its ongoing costs and higher fares, lesser service, and lack of flexibility as compared to the bus service?

Concord Trailways Schedule

Downeaster Brunswick Schedule

Downeaster Schedule


  • School spending per student in Brunswick has grown in 10 years from less than $8,000 per student to more than $15,000 per student; what increase in educational value have we received for this doubling in cost?  What increases in achievement?
  • Numerous local voices assert that Brunswick has excellent schools; what data is used to support this claim?  In other words, how do they know?
  • Other voices state that people move to Brunswick because of  our schools; what data do they use to support this?  Have they determined why people move out of Brunswick?  And compared the two?
  • How much will property taxes increase over the next five years on the basis of facts already known and the existing 5 year CIP?  Don’t forget to factor in the proposed outdoor pool at the Rec Center at Brunswick Landing, which will no doubt morph into an indoor year round pool.  What’s wrong with Coffin Pond?  And don’t forget cost growth at McClellan, which will probably continue for at least a year or two.  Oops….sorry; I forgot this is Cape Brunswick; if you don’t like the tax increases, you should move, as we were reminded by one member of the mommy mafia.

Town Council & Mr. Manager

  • What are the real reasons Mr. Manager resigned, and received a sizable pay-off for doing so?

  • Who knows the real facts behind the separation from employment by the town council, and when will they tell us?

  • Does Mr. Manager have any possible business interests tied to the proposed Cooks Corner new road, or any other in-town development efforts that have arisen during his watch?
  • Why isn’t the Town Council supporting constituents in opposing the Amtrak MLF evolution at the in-town Brunswick West site?


  • What is the council’s “new direction?”  What was the “old direction?”
  • Why did then Council Chair Suzan Wilson inflexibly reject our invitation to visit the proposed Brunswick West MLF site to personally experience the noise, vibration, and fumes of an idling Amtrak train set?


  • Why isn’t town councilor John “Johnny Protocols” Richardson, with his impeccable resume in economic and community development, vociferously advocating relocation of the MLF to Brunswick Landing or the Crooker Site at Cooks Corner to advance local, regional, and state multi-modal economic development, significantly reduce construction costs, and provide at least a chance for return on investment?


OK, so it’s more than ten; but we started the idea with three!  So cut us slack like everyone cut the council and Mr. Manager when McClellan costs grew from $100,000 to well over $1 million, on the way to two million before long, we’d bet.

Not that it matters much around here.  We’ve got community pride to worry about, don’t you know?  And besides; it’s not costing the town anything.

It’s costing you.