East Millinocket school board member wants voters to decide on all Schenck repairs at once

Posted Feb. 20, 2013, at 2:51 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Jennifer Murray wants voters to determine the entire future of Schenck High School this spring, not just whether to fix the school’s roof, she said Wednesday.

The East Millinocket School Committee member was the sole dissenter in a 4-1 vote Tuesday night to present the $2.1 million roof and gym floor repair question to voters in a referendum that will probably occur in April.

Murray said she felt the committee should have opted to present a second set of school repair and renovation options ranging in price from $1.2 to $1.9 million to voters during the same referendum.

“Up until last night I thought we were all on the same page in terms of putting both referendums out for a vote. I was surprised when they [committee members] decided not to do that,” Murray said Wednesday. “People should be voting on all of the phases now rather than going back to all of the voters three or four years from now.”

The $2.1 million option includes installing R-38 roof insulation, a new gymnasium floor, new emergency and exit lights and audio-visual fire alarms, plus repairing gym wall cracks and remodeling bathrooms and drinking fountains to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to a proposal dated Monday from Lewis & Malm Architecture of Bucksport.

The other three options outlined by Lewis & Malm, which carry costs of $1.2 million to $1.9 million, concern work that would probably not have to occur for several years.

The Maine Department of Education will pay about $636,000 of the $2.1 million, AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark said.

Clark did not immediately return a telephone message left Wednesday.

A first-time board member elected in November, Murray isn’t opposed to renovating the building, which serves East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville as part of AOS 66 and contains the K-4 Opal Myrick Elementary School.

“Bond interest payments are the lowest that they have ever been and it will never cost less than it does now to fix our school,” Murray said. “I think it is fiscally irresponsible not to look at all of our options now.”

“My concern is what happens if [the school’s] boilers go tomorrow or in six months? We are going to have to come up with the money to fix them,” Murray said. “At that point, if we can’t come up with the money, do we shut the doors?”

Tuesday’s meeting was the culmination of a process that began a year ago when Clark questioned whether the school should be closed. A 55 percent decline in school enrollment since 1995, state aid cuts and the increasing stress they put on local taxpayers, and the building’s need of repairs, were among Clark’s reasons.

Committee Chairman Dan Byron promised that alternative cost scenarios and supporting information — if not alternative votes — would be available at the referendum.

“I had heard a couple of board members say that they were concerned that neither would pass if we put them both on the ballot and they felt it would be easier to get one through at this time,” Murray said. “I don’t agree with that. We are either all in, or we are not, as a community.”

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