The future of the Carousel of Light is unclear after Town Meeting on Tuesday, November 16, voted down an article that would have given the merry-go-round a permanent home outside the Mullen-Hall School.
After more than hour of debate on the second night of the November Town Meeting, the 105-to-72 vote failed to garner the two-thirds majority required for approval. It did, however, receive more support than it did at last January’s Town Meeting, when the vote was 108-93. Since then, organizers continued outreach to Town Meeting members to try to change their minds.
“Most of us are not against the carousel, but this is the wrong place to put it," said Deborah Siegal, Precinct Six. “I have heard from several constituents about the lack of parking, traffic in front of the playground compromising children’s safety. So why would we put a carnival-like attraction in the center of town?”
Troy G.B. Clarkson, president of Carousel of Light Inc., described the transfer as the next step in finding a permanent home for the hand-carved carousel. The carousel debuted at the Barnstable County Fair in 1993. Since the summer of 2014 it has been located in front of the Mullen-Hall School, approximately 200 feet away from the section of land proposed for transfer.
Mr. Clarkson pitched the article to Town Meeting, stressing the need for a permanent home enclosed in a structure to eliminate the need each fall to disassemble the carousel and store the horses away, putting the structure at risk for damage. It costs the nonprofit $12,000 a year to take it down, he said.
He told Town Meeting the site was selected carefully.
“We considered several sites, and the task force unanimously came up with the recommended site,” he said.
The carousel has been operating seasonally on a corner of the Mullen-Hall School playground near the school driveway.
The organization proposed to put it on an 8,100-square-foot sloped sliver of land on the western edge of Mullen-Hall School property, adjacent to the Shivericks Pond Pathway. The article would have transferred the land from the school committee to the select board, whoich would work out a lease with the Carousel of Light organization.
While there was wide support for keeping the carousel in Falmouth, many residents registered complaints on the proposed location for myriad reasons, including taking land from the school, parking and traffic concerns, the possibility of removing trees on the site, and disturbing the wildlife and serenity at Shivericks Pond.
Mr. Clarkson said he spoke to former Falmouth tree warden Brian Dale, who agreed to help save any trees during the excavation process.
The discussion was limited to two minutes per person; a motion was made by Nicholas S. Lowell and accepted by Town Meeting. In the end, more than 40 Town Meeting members spoke in opposition to the location.
Judith Fenwick, Precinct One, expecting to have four minutes to show a PowerPoint presentation, was forced to shorten her comments.
She suggested the carousel board “think bigger and bolder” and erect a museum-like building on another site that could house the Carousel of Light and another carousel by Mr. Shinkle along with studio and teaching space.
“And then you can return the Mullen-Hall playground to the school,” she said.
Supporters felt the location would enhance the passive recreation of Shivericks Pond and the new pathway. Others advocated for the central location as an attraction for tourists and residents who could ride the merry-go-round and then visit restaurants and shops.
Former Falmouth schools superintendent Robert V. Antonucci, Precinct Six, spoke in favor of the location.
“When Mullen-Hall was renovated, the vision was for the downtown school to be used by community to congregate during the summers. It would be a positive addition to the schools…kids are playing on the playground during the school year; why not continue that during the summer? As an educator, I always lamented that playgrounds are only used 180 days a year,” he said.
Select board member Megan English Braga also voiced support for the downtown location as an attraction for young families.
“We need to attract families here and this does. I hope we don’t just say we want young families, but make decisions that reflect that. We don’t want to lose this asset to another community,” she said.
Alternatives were suggested, including Peg Noonan Park, Teaticket Park, Goodwill Park, Town Hall Square, the Main Street library lawn and the village green. Mr. Clarkson gave reasons for why those locations would not work: the library trustees did not want the carousel on the lawn, Town Hall Square is too small, Teaticket Park has a conservation restriction on it, and the village green’s sanctity needs to be preserved.
“Our search was exhaustive,” he said.