ROCKLAND, Maine — Regional School Unit 13 officials told district residents on Thursday that a proposed $23.2 million project that would consolidate services and reduce the number of schools will not increase their taxes.
The $23.2 million bond, if approved by voters at a Feb. 28 referendum, would fund a new, single Owls Head Community School to replace of Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston and Owls Head Central School. It also would fund renovations at Oceanside High School and Oceanside Middle School by expanding cafeterias, increasing number of classrooms, and bringing facilities into state and federal compliance. The bond will also fund more energy efficient infrastructure across the district.
“This is not a building project, it’s a comprehensive approach to improving education in the region,” Superintendent of Schools John McDonald said. The district includes Rockland, Cushing, Owls Head, Thomaston and South Thomaston.
Factoring in the closure of the Lura Libby School in Thomaston last year, which is anticipated to yield an annual savings of $325,000 in operating costs, along with the $100,000 savings annually from the closure of the McLain administrative building in Rockland later this year, and the $245,000 in annual savings the district will gain from closing both Owls Head Central and Gilford Butler, the 20-year bond project breaks even, district business manager Pete Orne said. Once the McLain building closes, administrative offices will be moved this summer to South School in Rockland.
At the anticipated end of the project in 2019, the district will have winnowed the number of operating facilities from nine down to six — four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.
“These projects will not increase our budget by one penny,” Orne told the handful of residents gathered at the public hearing Thursday night in the high school auditorium.
Orne, business manager for the district, said the district expects to save $240,000 annually by upgrading the district’s infrastructure to be more energy efficient; and that fewer buildings in the district will save $705,000 a year and $645,000 a year in savings from general operational efficiencies. For example, Orne said, the food served at Oceanside High School is actually made off site at the South School and transported to the high school every day.
Repaying the bond will be structured in such a way that the largest amount the district will have to repay annually is $1.5 million, starting in 2021, and that amount will be completely covered by savings accrued by the district, due to the upgrades and increased efficiencies proposed with this project, Orne said.
The new Owls Head Community School, the most substantial portion of the proposal, will be three-times the size of the current Owls Head school, and located on the same site. The current school will be demolished and the new school, which will have the capacity for 200 students, will face south on the nine-acre property. Six of those acres will be buildable and available for community use, such as for hosting farmers’ markets and organized sports.
“It looks like a very good plan,” Rockland resident Steve Carroll said at the meeting. “It seems to make a lot of sense not only for the district, but for reducing our footprint … you’ve done a very good job convincing us this is not going to increase our taxes.”
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, in each municipality in the district.