CARIBOU, Maine — The people have spoken, and Caribou will be getting a new $45 million pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school, primarily funded by the state.
The combined tally of votes recorded Tuesday in the three RSU 39 communities of Caribou, Limestone and Stockholm favored construction of a new school on Bennett Drive where Teague Park Elementary School currently stands. The combined votes also approved more than $2 million from local tax revenue to build additional gym and music room space in the new school.
Funding for this project was unanimously approved by the State Board of Education in December 2016. Construction is expected to begin in April 2018 and to be completed by August 2020.
Superintendent Tim Doak said Wednesday that Caribou’s pre-kindergarten through eighth grade population is predicted to be 711 by 2020. He said the new school, designed by PDT Architects in Portland, will be built to accommodate 750 students with an approximate 10 percent increase, or an additional 75 to 100 students.
The election posed two questions to voters. The first was for the $45,640,112 base project. While most of this is funded by the state, $175,149 of this figure will come out of Caribou, Limestone and Stockholm taxes over the next 20 years to fund low-sloped roofs, 76 additional bleacher seats, triple-glazed windows for increased energy efficiency and various aesthetic improvements to the main hallway.
The second question asked voters if they favored funding, via local taxes over 20 years, an additional $2,327,274 toward the second gym and increased music room space.
Combined votes from the three communities showed that 84 percent, or 1,102 residents, were in favor of the base project while only 16 percent, or 204, were opposed. On the second question, 74 percent of voters, or 965, were in favor while 26 percent, or 344, were against the additional gym and music room space.
Both Caribou and Stockholm voted in favor of the school and the taxpayer-funded additions, while Limestone voters narrowly shot down both questions. Fifty-two percent, or 78 of the Limestone voters, were against the base project, and 60 percent, or 91 voters, rejected the locally-funded additions.
Between now and the projected completion date in 2020, Hilltop Elementary School will be conveyed to the city and potentially reused as a senior housing complex. The State Board of Education also will fund the demolition of Teague Park Elementary School, Caribou Middle School and the Caribou Learning Center. Proponents of the new school contend that taxpayers in Caribou, Limestone and Stockholm will see an overall savings because of reduced maintenance and energy costs for a single new building as opposed to the four aging and inefficient facilities currently occupied by pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
With RSU 39 communities only funding one energy efficient building, officials predict an approximate $600,000 savings in annual energy and maintenance costs. However, RSU Superintendent clarified that this savings is only predicted for the first two years of the new school’s operation, and tax increases by the RSU 39 communities or any changes in the education budget on the state level may alter these projections.
With both the base project and locally funded additions set into motion, members of the school unit predict that taxes for residents with a $100,000 home will go down by $108.28 in Caribou, $131.61 in Limestone and $107.53 for Stockholm citizens.
RSU 39 Business Manager Mark Bouchard said in a Feb. 7 phone interview that, even if city taxes are raised and RSU 39 is forced to increase its budget because of new requirements on the state level, all three communities would be paying much higher taxes had they rejected the new school.