GREENVILLE, Maine — Union 60 Superintendent Heather Perry has photographs that tell a story of a once state-of-the-art school that has failed to keep up with the 21st century and a school that has long outlived its life span of serving area children.
Just how to maintain a viable school system in this isolated community with two aging buildings, declining enrollment and decreasing state subsidy has been the subject of a lengthy study by a building committee that consists of a diverse group of residents.
Since 1996, the state’s subsidy share has gone from 23 percent of the school’s total budget to 3 percent in 2008-2009. Over that period, the subsidy has been reduced from $490,874 to $125,501. Because of that, the town has had to front more of the education costs and has left few funds for maintenance.
The building committee, which made a presentation to selectmen Wednesday, is recommending that the Nickerson building be closed. The Butler building was constructed in 1963 and needs electrical, heating and structural upgrades among other improvements totaling nearly $1 million.
To do that, the committee has recommended that the Oakes building, built in 1934, be upgraded to house pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students. The school has, for the most part, its original electrical wiring, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, but the structure is in sound shape. To bring the grandfathered facility up to code would cost an estimated $7.5 million.
“This building has lasted for 70 years so if we’re going to do something, let’s try to do it once and do it right and make sure it will last another 50, 60, 70 years,” Woodie Bartley, a committee member, said Wednesday.
This week’s meeting with selectmen followed up on a June public hearing on the proposal. A second public hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, at the school, with tours of the facilities offered at 6 p.m. Other hearings will be held during the process to keep residents informed before a request for funds is made at the June 2010 town meeting.
At the earlier public hearing, residents suggested that if the town planned to get a no-interest loan for the school renovations made possible by the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, then it also should include improvements to the gymnasium, which has major problems, according to Perry. She said WBRC of Bangor, the architectural-engineering firm hired for the project, estimates those improvements would cost an additional $3 million.
Perry said it’s possible the town could get state funds, but the funds would have to used for new school construction. She said the Oakes school is a beautiful and sound school but just needs to be upgraded.
The idea of abandoning the school doesn’t sit well with many residents.
The cost troubled Selectmen Ellen Edgerly, who said, “This price tag is overwhelming, it’s crazy.”
Bartley admitted the “numbers are very scary,” but both he and Perry said every effort will be made to raise as much as possible locally through grants, a capital campaign and from alumni. The school already has $60,000 that originally was set aside for bathroom improvements.
Town officials suggested there also is the possibility of assessing a percentage of the final costs to Shirley, Beaver Cove, and the Unorganized Territory, which tuition students to Greenville. That assessment method could be similar to a formula now used for the Greenville landfill that the towns share.
Perry said the committee’s goal is to plan in a manner as to be responsive to the needs of the local taxpayers, yet not jeopardize the growth of the quality educational system that exists in the school system. When the conversation began about what to do with the schools, it was based on what the students needed, not on bricks and mortar, she said.