Pilots would fly in to Dexter to benefit Make-A-Wish

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DEXTER — Last fall more than a dozen small aircraft landed at Old Orchard Beach to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s unexpected landing at the spot in the Spirit of St. Louis and in the process raised thousands of dollars for Make-A-Wish Maine. Jim Crane of Exeter was one of the pilots who took part “Wings 4 Wishes” in York County, and he is looking to hold a similar fly-in by Lake Wassookeag in early August.

“I am Jim Crane, I am a farmer and a pilot in Exeter,” Crane said to the Dexter Town Council during the March 15 meeting. He said Wings 4 Wishes was organized by Old Orchard Beach High School student Chase Walker “and I was one of the 16 that landed there.”

Crane said that the beach was roped off in order for the planes to safely land, but an estimated 8,000 spectators came by. The onlookers were asked to donate to the foundation working to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses and “they raised about $15,000 for Make-A-Wish,” Crane said.

“I was really inspired by that young man and the money he raised,” Crane said.

He said the planes were on display for the public to view and, as part of his slideshow to the council, showed one image of a Make-A-Wish child sitting in Crane’s plane. Crane said this boy, whose family went to Disney World thanks to Make-A-Wish, had endured five brain operations. The pilot said the boy’s mother told him that it was like Christmas for her son to sit in the aircraft.

He said a big reason for the success of the fundraiser was the opportunity to see aircraft touch down in a location where planes usually do not land. Crane said he began to wonder if a smaller-scale fly-in fundraiser could be held in Dexter.

“What I am asking the town is to let use the waterfront,” Crane said, with Make-A-Wish Maine being invited to the event on the shore of Lake Wassookeag. He said pilots could land in a nearby field and then could taxi the short distance to the waterfront. The airport could be an alternate site if needed.

“Wings on the Waterfront” is being planned for Saturday, Aug. 4, Crane said, and he said six to eight aircraft would fly in to Dexter. “You can come in without donating, but I would like people to throw money in to the bucket,” he said, with the funds going to Make-A-Wish Maine.

The council members said they supported Crane’s plans for Wings on the Waterfront, and more information on the event will be released in the months to come.

In other business, the council passed a motion with the intention of finding a solution to a long-running issue of a dangerous building at 121 Main Street.

The homeowner, who lives in Oklahoma, was given until March 21 to put $50,000 in escrow in an account with the town at the Dexter Bangor Savings Bank to indicate she is planning to repair the structure and if not then demolition of the structure would proceed.

Earlier in the meeting the demolition was awarded to Wyman Construction of Dexter for $5,800. Should the work start, then the building will be torn down by June 30. The debris will be kept away from adjacent properties in order to be disposed of by the Dexter Fire Department.

Council Chair Michael Blake said earlier in the evening he had a 45-minute phone call with the property owner. She told Blake that a conversation with the engineer who looked at the home told her it is salvagable and she is looking to fix the building.

“I said I would tell the council and they may hang back a few days,” Blake said about a potential decision to accept the bid and proceed with the demolition.

“I did tell her it’s not like we woke up this morning and decided to knock your house down, this has been going on for a while now,” Blake said.

Last fall councilors passed an order allowing for the demolition of the dangerous building and for the costs to be recovered by the town as allowed by statute. The homeowner, who so far has made no effort to remedy the problem, was given a 20-day notice to remove any personal property prior to the demolition being put out to bid.

Town Manager Jim Chandler said the possessions were photographed on site, and these items were removed by the town and are now safely in storage at the airport.

The council scheduled a public hearing for its next meeting on Thursday, April 12 to discuss repealing the town’s authority to set speed limits on municipal roads.

Chandler said recently Maine Local Roads Center Community Services Division Director Peter Coughlan reviewed Dexter’s roads. “He raised the issue we are the last remaining town in the state of Maine that maintains its own speed limits,” Chandler said.

The town manager said a decade and a half Dexter, Paris and Sabattus all set speed limits on town travelways, but the other two communities stopped to avoid the potential costs for various engineering and pavement studies. “The state does that routinely for all the roads in the state,” Chandler said.

Giving this oversight to the state can be done with a simple letter from the town manager, and the council may vote to take such an action after hearing from the public next month.

Dexter officials also talked with Rich Pfirman of the First Universalist Church about the long-term future of the building.

Chandler said the church, built nearly two centuries ago and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one part of a trio of historic buildings in the center of town along with the town hall and Abbott Memorial Library.

Pfirman said the church is owned by the New England Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the organization is looking to discontinue this ownership (the arrangement is the only such one still in place from a high of around 250).

The association has given the church congregation six months to formulate a plan or the building may be sold. “There could be some very bad alternatives for a very old building in town,” Pfirman said.

“We have diminishing people and diminishing resources,” he said, with about 15 active church members and 31 listed on the books.

Pfirman said the congregation is interested in working with the community to come to some form of agreement, such as renting the space with the town owning it, which could provide a few years extra time to develop a long-term plan for the church, such as to redevelop the building for another purpose. He said the town would be a much stronger applicant for grant funds than the congregation.

Chandler said no action needs to be taken yet, but he wanted the council to start thinking and discussing the fate of the First Universalist Church.

“We have determined it’s structurally sound, they have taken care of it,” he said. “The big drawback in my mind is parking.”

The council agreed to look into the matter.

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