MILLINOCKET, Maine – About 60 Chinese students who will be studying at Stearns High School in September likely will be housed at the Katahdin Inn, school officials said Wednesday.
With member Donald Dow absent, the Millinocket School Committee voted 4-0 on Tuesday to allow Superintendent Kenneth Smith to negotiate a two-year lease agreement with the inn’s owner.
The operators of Katahdin Inn and Baxter Park Inn were the only bidders to submit offers to house the students. Smith said he hoped to have a tentative agreement in hand in a week.
“They are both excellent facilities. We did a very comprehensive analysis of our needs,” Smith said Wednesday. “We looked at all fire safety standards, the costs of the operation, the size of the rooms. We think this will be a very good place for them.”
Katahdin Inn’s larger size was a major factor in the board’s decision, Chairman Arnold Hopkins said.
“Katahdin Inn has 82 rooms and this gives us a chance for expansion,” Hopkins said. “Baxter has 48, but it really is kind of a win-win situation for everybody [who owns area hotels or motels] as when we lease one inn for the winter, all of the tourists who would normally have gone there will go to other places.”
Smith made national news headlines for announcing last fall that Stearns would accept as many as 200 Chinese students in an effort to bolster school coffers depleted by budget cuts, offset a shrinking school population and broaden the school’s cultural awareness.
With Hopkins opposing, the committee voted 3-1 on March 31 to have 60 high school-age Chinese students attend Stearns in September and be housed at a local hotel the system would lease for two years. Ten of the students would be seniors; the rest in the lower grades, Smith said.
The program, which school leaders first discussed a year ago, is expected to earn the school system $24,000 tuition per student, or $1.4 million from 60 students. That would be enough to cover the program’s expenses and offset large losses in tax revenue that are expected with a revaluation of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill.
The lease negotiations will determine the cost of the housing, Hopkins said. The board will vote on the negotiated lease when it is finished.
The students will be housed two to a room, with boys and girls on separate floors, and be supervised, Hopkins said. The only renovations expected at the hotel would be some repainting and the establishment of a common kitchen area where students would be fed. The inn has a large lobby area that should serve as a common area for the students.