EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville residents should start thinking about closing Opal P. Myrick School, Union 113 Superintendent Quenten Clark said.
No decisions have been made and the issue probably would have to go to referendum, but declining enrollments and state aid — and rising maintenance costs — probably will make closing the East Millinocket grade school or some other building inevitable, he said.
“These are crazy economic times. Ideally, we want to keep all of our buildings open and keep our schools expanding, but we’re not. We have to come to a point where we decide what to do with all the schools,” Clark said Sunday. “I’m not certain that it [Myrick] has to close, but it sure looks like it does, and if it does, we need to start talking about it.”
Clark, who briefed Union 113 and East Millinocket leaders on the issue last week, said enrollment projections place 100 students in each of the union’s three schools, Myrick, Medway Middle School and Schenck High School of East Millinocket, over the next several years. Schenck at one time had 550 students all by itself.
The losses and rising maintenance costs eventually would leave school leaders “putting money into keeping the buildings operational, and not into teaching kids,” Clark said.
He believes Myrick is the most logical choice for closure because of its outdated design and grammar school scale, which is unfit for high school youth. Schenck needs a roof replacement, but can comfortably accommodate grade schoolers and high schoolers, Clark said.
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 website, eastmillinocket.org.
In believing that grade schoolers and high schoolers can use the same building, Clark differs from many other school leaders, including Millinocket’s, who have said that closing Granite Street School and combining its pupils with those at Stearns High School of Millinocket would be too costly and educationally inadvisable.
“I believe that you could run a more educationally efficient system if everybody was in one place,” Clark said. “You can lay out the place so that 100 elementary kids are not going south when 100 high school kids are going north, and Myrick kids are already going to Schenck for their lunches now.”
East Millinocket school leaders first suggested closing Myrick in 2009. If the closure occurs, it would be the second in recent years in northern Penobscot County. Mattawamkeag residents voted to close Dr. Carl Troutt School in 2009. Troutt pupils transferred to Ella P. Burr School in Lincoln.
Union 113 board Chairman Greg Stanley and East Millinocket Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Scally said town leaders are receptive to Clark’s ideas.
“The first thing they have to be able to do is sell parents on it,” Scally said Sunday. “You have to show that the kids can get along and won’t be under a bad influence. You don’t just go saying you have to close the place down.”
One early idea, Stanley said, involves putting one grade of pupils into Medway Middle School and the rest into Schenck.
Given proposed cutbacks in state aid and the loss of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the dialogue on school closure might need to be brief and the decision on closure made in time to combine schools in September, Clark said.
Clark plans to continue discussing the idea at board meetings, and selectmen will start searching for alternative uses for Myrick, Scally said.