BELFAST, Maine — Voters in Regional School Unit 71 will be asked to approve a $7.3 million bond to renovate the aging Belfast Area High School at the polls on Election Day this fall — but they will not be asked to deep-six the school’s swimming pool.
RSU 71 directors voted 5-4 at a special meeting Monday night in favor of a less-expensive plan than the one they leaned toward last week. That controversial $10 million renovation plan for the 1965 facility would have removed the swimming pool, a move that was patently unpopular among the majority of students, parents, teachers and community members who spoke during Monday’s meeting, which caused nearly 50 people to jam into the crowded high school library.
“I’m an advocate for the pool,” Belfast Area High School senior Morgan Fernald, 17, of Belfast said. “And while I am 17 and don’t pay taxes — yet — the $7 million bond would not hike up taxes so much as the $10 million bond.”
Option B, the choice narrowly favored by directors, initially called for $6.7 million in renovations, but before the vote, the directors added $575,000 to re-line the pool and renovate the main locker room.
As now recommended, the bond would save the pool, and it would remove the math wing and build a two-story addition in its place, construct a new entry canopy, move the central office and adult education to the high school building, improve stage and gym acoustics and renovate the special-education area. Full details are available on the school district’s website.
Directors David Crabiel of Belfast, Evelyn DeFrees of Searsmont, Fred Black of Swanville, Laura Newsom of Belmont and Jessica Woods of Belfast voted in favor of the amended Option B.
Directors Caitlin Hills, Charlie Grey, Alison Goscinski, all of Belfast, and Bernadette Dutra of Morrill voted against. At least some of those directors were in support of the $10 million Option A, which would have eliminated the pool but included additional improvements, such as moving the cafeteria into the former pool area so there would be more light and space.
“I think it’s good,” Crabiel, the school board chairman, said of the plan chosen Monday. “The work that will be done is tremendous. It’s going to be great for the school.”
But some in the audience told RSU 71 directors they were concerned that the board was rushing too fast to get the bond on the ballot. Other schools in the district, particularly the Gladys Weymouth Elementary School in Morrill, where all children from Belmont, Morrill and Searsmont attend prekindergarten through first grade, are in dire need of maintenance help.
“My fear is that if we spend $7 million or $10 million on the high school, I’m not sure there’s going to be any money left,” Randy Place, a town selectman from Morrill, said. “What’s the harm in waiting?”
Crabiel said Tuesday that it is very likely that voters will be asked to approve a second bond in June to deal with the situation in Belmont, Morrill and Searsmont, which is referred to as the tri-town area.
“The reality is there are a lot of issues in our buildings we’ve got to address. We’re trying to knock them off one by one,” he said. “Hopefully we can come up with a solution for the tri-town and put it out in a way that makes sense. And then of course the energy audit that we’re doing will help us also. That’s going to take care of a lot of deferred maintenance.”