Parkman residents question school sale

Posted July 15, 2010, at 11:46 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:37 a.m.

PARKMAN, Maine — Several residents here say the $15,000 sale of the former McKusick Elementary School and 4 acres valued at $672,000 was not in the best interest of the town.

Selectmen agreed in April to sell the property to Kirk Kimball, who wants to open an assisted living center to provide elder care. At Kimball’s request, selectmen agreed to reduce the value on the property until Kimball could get his business up and running in about two years. No restrictions were placed on the property or the sale, and no money has yet been paid by Kimball.

“I didn’t like it,” resident Jim Meikle said of the Board of Selectmen’s action. He, along with resident Ann Bridge, attended the selectmen’s meeting earlier this month to learn why the town took the action it did. What bothers them and other residents is the tax break provided to Kimball, the fact that selectmen neither placed the property out to bid nor advertised that it would be sold, and the lack of communication from town officials.

Meikle said it almost sounds as if the sale could have been orchestrated.

“The whole process does not lend itself to believability,” he said Wednesday. “This was a well-planned thing; it just didn’t happen.”

Meikle said the school hadn’t even closed before selectmen made their decision.

“Why wasn’t the public really informed?” he said. “There are just so many questions as why certain things were done the way they were.”

Pat Johnson, chairman of the Board of Selectman, said town officials were authorized at the annual town meeting in March to sell, transfer or rent the property in any manner they deemed would be in the best interests of the town.

Kimball, of the Guilford area, and Pastor David Homchuck from Calvary Chapel Maine Highlands in Dover-Foxcroft, who heard by word of mouth that the school was up for consideration, submitted proposals, and those two were the only ones considered, Johnson said Wednesday. The Charlotte White Center in Dover-Foxcroft had made an inquiry about the building but it came too late, she noted.

The selectmen were aided in the process by the Maine Municipal Association and by a committee of about 25 people who signed up in March to serve on a School Option Committee, Johnson said. It was the committee’s recommendation that the property be sold to Kimball, and the board honored that recommendation, she said.

Bridge is concerned that selectmen agreed to reduce the school property’s value especially because property taxes jumped for all other properties by more than 20 percent this year.

Equally upsetting to Bridge was the fact selectmen knew for a year that SAD 4 would be deeding the building back to the town, yet selectmen did not put together a policy for its disposal or a procedure that could have been well-known to everybody. Had people been aware that the property would be sold so cheaply, Bridge said, others would have submitted proposals.

“They could have been much more proactive in informing all of the citizens,” she said. As for the makeup of the School Option Committee, she said the majority are relatives of town officials.

School Option Committee member Paul Bridge, who voted against a recommendation to sell the property to Kimball, asked town officials in May to solicit bids for the property. He also had encouraged the board to allow residents to vote on the proposals.

Considering the value of the building, Bridge said by not soliciting bid proposals, the selectmen left themselves open to the controversy they have now.

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