Greenville’s Nickerson Elementary School to be closed in late autumn

Posted Aug. 16, 2011, at 7:25 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — Years of discussion and weeks of speculation ended Monday when the Greenville School Committee voted 3-2 to close the Nickerson Elementary School this fall.

The approximately 90 elementary pupils are expected to be moved into the Louis Oakes building, which houses the middle and high schools, sometime in late October after renovations and upgrades of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the Oakes building have been completed.

Committee members John Cobb and Mike Theriault voted against the move.

“We don’t have an exact date,” Greenville Superintendent Beth Lorigan said Tuesday. She said the move is being made because of air quality concerns in the Nickerson school, dwindling enrollment and the need to provide quality education within the fiscal limitations at the town and state levels.

“We want to do everything possible to make sure our students have the best education and that the funds that we do have are used to provide that and not to pay for oil,” Lorigan said.

Unlike school administrative districts, the Nickerson school is a municipal unit so the school committee is allowed by law to close it without an upfront town vote, David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Department of Education, said Tuesday.

The school committee, however, must file a lack of need report with the Department of Education that identifies why the school no longer is needed and what alternative is in place, among other information, 30 days after the committee’s vote, Connerty-Marin said. Residents opposed to the move can force a town referendum on the matter if they submit a written petition signed by 10 percent of those Greenville residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election within that 30-day period, he said.

Parent Stephanie Elsemore told the committee Monday that her child is excited about the move.

Not everyone who attended Monday’s meeting was in favor of the move, however. Resident and longtime educator Loren Ritchie said he felt it would be less disruptive to the pupils to wait another year.

“Kids have been my life. I know what goes on in the school systems and I know you have to have a climate, you have to have an atmosphere, you have to have lines of respect and you have to have lines of love, and all of those things enter into the comfort zone of kids, particularly little kids,” Ritchie said. “If you take that away and put them in a state of confusion for essentially what’s going to be a year, you don’t know and I don’t know one, five, 10 years down the road what effect this is going to have on the kids. I don’t really know why they are pushing it except that some people just want to get it over with because they’ve talked about for years.”

Resident and parent John Simko also opposes closing the school.

“The move will add disruption to the learning environment if done during the school year,” he said Tuesday. “The town office was not moved during the creation of the annual budget; the public works garage was not moved during winter plowing. Why is the elementary school being moved while school is in session?”

Lorigan said a limited study on indoor air quality conducted in June recommended that a structural engineer be retained to evaluate the Nickerson school. Of particular concern in the limited study was the open air shaft in the boiler room, the damaged areas of the roof, the apparent movement of water near the foundation, and squirrel feces above the suspended ceiling, she said.

“My feeling is that these are certainly serious problems,” Lorigan said.

She said it would be at least four to six weeks after school has been in session before the move is made.

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