NEWPORT, Maine — After eight public forums, a detailed analysis of renovation versus replacement of schools and a review by the Department of Education, the fate of school buildings in RSU 19 is still uncertain.
“The state is not in a position to authorize any decision at this time,” RSU 19 Superintendent Greg Potter reported to the school building committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 10. “The state also wants more specific discussions with the community of certain scenarios.”
Though it has taken three years to get to this stage in the school building planning, the school building committee’s final plan will be voted on at a district-wide referendum next February.
Specialists were hired by the district to research options after considering public input from the district towns of Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans. Oak Point Associates of Biddeford recommended to the state that it was more cost effective to build a new elementary and high school than to renovate them. Considerations included for renovations included the cost of portable buildings during renovations, modifying existing buildings to handle different grades (bathrooms in the pre-K and kindergarten classrooms) and the need to make schools more handicap accessible.
The initial hearings aired concerns from many viewpoints such as food services and nursing as well as comments regarding custodial, HVAC and educational systems.
In 2011, the state identified two schools in Newport as needing replacement or renovation: the Newport Elementary School on Elm Street was third in the state and Nokomis Regional High School on Williams Road in Newport was sixth.
It was up to the communities in the district to decide what was best in terms of money and school population, which is expected to decline 10 percent over the next 10 years.
The school building committee will once again reach out to the communities for their input from a wide range of scenarios. These range from consolidating the district’s eight schools into four, changing the grades served in the buildings, modifying buildings to better serve students or build the two schools the state identified as in need. The community forums will begin in March.
“It’s not an easy decision,” said Darren Briggs, committee chair. “And we need the public’s input and support to make the best choice for the next generation of students while not adding to the tax rate.”
Whether it’s replacement or renovation, the money will come from the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital Improvement Program. But not all items are fully funded by the state.
“While I’m thankful for what we can get, a 230-seat hall [which the state would pay for] is a lecture hall, not a performance hall,” stated Andrew Maderios, RSU 19 music coordinator. The 230 seats is based on the school’s population of 2,171.
According to Maderios, 600 seats are used at concerts and events at Nokomis. He sees a huge opportunity for regional drama competitions, conferences and other assemblies both within the school and area populations. Extensive fund raising will be needed for the lighting and seats to fill a space that the state could provide.
Athletics would also need a little fundraising boost. Though the state would fund a six-lane track, an eight-lane track would allow track meets to finish before midnight, the athletic director said. And a multi-purpose field would also benefit from lights which the state won’t fund.
A fundraising committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 7 pm at Nokomis Regional High School.
“We can’t make it bigger or better later,” Briggs warned. “So let’s do our best thinking now.”
The next school building committee meeting is at 7 p.m. March 26 at Nokomis.