MEDWAY, Maine – Selectmen hope to educate voters about all the challenges taxpayers will face with repairing Schenck High School, board Chairman Clint Linscott said.
The East Millinocket School Committee voted 5-0 during a Tuesday meeting at Medway Middle School to recommend that selectmen set a referendum on the $2.1 million repair of the high school’s roof.
Linscott and Selectman Gary MacLeod supported the referendum proposal during Tuesday’s meeting. Selectmen will meet at 5 p.m. on Monday to finalize the proposal’s passage to voters, Linscott said.
Linscott said he wanted voters to weigh the challenges against their desire to keep kindergarten through fourth-grade and ninth through 12th-grade students at Schenck, which houses Opal Myrick Elementary School within a wing of the building.
Those challenges include the declining population — school-age and general — of the Katahdin region, rising education costs, and the decline of state aid and the local tax base. AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark has said that the town’s school population has declined 55 percent since 1995.
Under state law, the referendum must occur at least 45 days after the selectmen’s vote. Clark has said he expects it would occur in April.
Linscott doesn’t think that voters should decide within this referendum whether to do the roof and also determine whether to tackle other renovations costing several million dollars more Schenck would need to be fully modernized.
“That would defeat it because we can’t support” doing all the repairs, Linscott said. Voters might be frightened off repairing the roof if they saw the repairs in the context of the larger effort, he said.
Some residents have said that the two schools are a major component of the town’s livability. They fear a further population exodus if the schools are closed and students are sent elsewhere. Not repairing the roof, they said, would just leave the town with a degraded building.
Others question the affordability or wisdom of keeping the schools going given the dire population and aid predictions. Linscott said that if townspeople find saving the school feasible, doing the work piecemeal keeps the town’s options open.
“If we do the work gradually, it gives us the potential of saving the school,” Linscott said. “It buys us time.”
Town officials hope to determine by Monday how much of an impact the school repairs will have on property tax rates, Linscott said.
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. It also includes repairing gym wall cracks as well as remodeling bathrooms and drinking fountains to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to a proposal from Lewis & Malm Architecture of Bucksport.
Schenck High School serves East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville. Board meetings rotate between Schenck, which is in East Millinocket, and Medway Middle School.