EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Board of Selectmen will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday to consider the repair of Schenck High School’s roof as part of a project with a cost that might increase to $2.1 million, officials said.
Selectmen met for about 40 minutes at the town office on Monday and delayed their vote another day to allow time for school officials to determine whether upgrades that would make the building compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act were required under state law.
The delay seemed to frustrate resident Cynthia Clukey. Clukey said the vote had been delayed enough already “for somebody to go find another reason” for another delay. She said that selectmen often list their opposition to projects on articles residents vote on during the annual town meeting.
“Yes, no, or we don’t have an opinion. That’s all you have to say,” Clukey said during the meeting, which about 45 people attended.
During the selectmen’s meeting, AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark said that he was told by members of the state government’s Bureau of General Services and Department of Education that the project did not require ADA compliance.
School committee member Jennifer Murray told town leaders in an email earlier Monday that state law requires that any public building receiving more than $250,000 in renovations must be made compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“It is my hope that this issue be rectified immediately, but certainly before sending it to the selectmen. I do not want to stop the process (as I’ve been accused of in the past),” Murray wrote in the email.
School officials opted recently to cut the ADA portion of the repairs to help reduce the building project’s cost from $2.1 million to $1.6 million. It was unclear what financial impact the restoration of the compliance work would have on the project’s cost.
The teachers unions of AOS 66 announced a vote of no confidence in Murray in early April, accusing her of trying to halt or undermine the roof repair work, but board members denied the accusation.
“She, along with the selectmen, have blocked the democratic process in the town by delaying a public hearing and a [referendum] vote,” the letter continued.
Board members said that Murray’s discovery of procedural errors, which forced the rescheduling of a public referendum on the roof repair from April to June, was verified by the board’s attorney and probably saved taxpayers money and time.
The selectmen’s budget committee voted 4-0 earlier Monday to recommend against supporting the project. Board Chairman Clint Linscott said that a 20-year bond on the project would cost taxpayers $100,000 to $200,000 annually, but he did not support that option.
“This town cannot afford a 20-year bond for the high school,” Linscott said.
Selectmen are expected to vote Tuesday for, against or to abstain from recommending the project and whether to have the referendum. Linscott has said that most board members, including himself, seem to agree to the referendum. No referendum date has been set.
Linscott said that he and the board favored the delay to ensure that the process was handled correctly.
No one appears to want to close the building, which also houses K-4 Opal Myrick Elementary School, but school and town populations have dropped steadily over the last two decades to the point where AOS 66’s projected high school student population for Schenck in September is 131 of 209 students, the lowest in town history.
The school is built to handle at least 500 students. AOS 66 serves East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville. East Millinocket has about 1,500 residents as of the 2010 census.
The school board supports the referendum and seems to support the roof repair. Several members have said they believe that the education offered at Schenck is excellent and that the building is essential to the life and economic development prospects of the town.
The $2.1 million roof repair proposal calls for new R-38 roof insulation, a new gymnasium floor, emergency and exit lights, audio-visual fire alarms, repairing gym wall cracks and remodeling bathrooms and drinking fountains to meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. The state would pay about $636,000 of the total.
The $2.1 million proposal is a portion of several expenses expected to increase the town’s 23.33 mill rate to about 44 mills this year. That estimate will be made final after town and state budgets are set.
School leaders met with Millinocket school board members last week to begin talks on consolidating academic and athletic offerings, including, if all goes well, schools. Selectman Mark Scally has proposed sending town students to Stearns High School in Millinocket and turning Schenck into a Katahdin region middle school after closing the school for two years.
Millinocket Superintendent Kenneth Smith told school leaders at the meeting that his offer to tuition town students to Millinocket schools for $1.5 million in September was genuine.