EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders are studying whether to close Opal Myrick Elementary School and house pupils at Schenck High School, possibly in a new addition.
Fueled by the need to save taxpayer money and respond to the continuing decline in the region’s school population, the Board of Selectmen asked East Millinocket school committee members last week to examine school buildings for potential savings.
“We are just in the beginning phases right now,” committee member Daniel Byron said Saturday. “We are examining the buildings to see the shapes they are in. We want to determine whether it makes sense to keep kids at Opal Myrick and possibly having to renovate Schenck.
“We are looking at ways to try to save some money,” he added. “If it [a renovation] will be a multimillion-dollar project, it might not go because it might be too much to spend.”
Built on Beech Street in 1926-27, Opal Myrick originally was Garrett Schenck Jr. High School. As the town grew, a new high school was built, and the building was renamed Opal Myrick School in memory of the longtime teacher and principal of the East Millinocket School system, according to the town’s Web site, eastmillinocket.org.
About 200 children from East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville attend the K-4 school, the Web site states.
Mark Scally, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, was pleased at the search for savings.
“I don’t know whether they will be saving much money by doing that or not,” Scally said, “but it needs to be looked into.”
Committee members also are cataloging necessary school building repairs, such as replacing the gymnasium floor at Schenck, Scally said. No timeline for the engineering study has been set.
The town school department’s enrollment is 286 as of November, according to the Maine School Management Association. Another 214 attend the two schools from Medway and 42 from Woodville.
At one time, Schenck alone had more than 500 students, Byron said, but over the last 10 years or so, northern Maine school populations have declined by about half, school officials say.
Elementary school closings are an almost inevitable response. School officials and residents from the former SAD 67 of Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag voted last spring to close Carl Troutt School in Mattawamkeag because of a lack of pupils, installing Troutt pupils and staff at Ella Burr Elementary School in Lincoln.
In Millinocket, Town Council members have suggested that the Millinocket school committee consider closing Granite Street School and moving its pupils into Stearns High School. That committee did not preclude the move, but has resisted it, with members saying that mixing students of such differing ages under one roof is not educationally sound.