Despite a tense, three-hour meeting Thursday night, a group of school districts in western and central Washington County still cannot agree on which property they should acquire and renovate into a high school vocational center. The districts risk losing a $2 million state grant if they cannot agree by the end of March.
Members of the Machias School Committee told other area school officials Thursday that they want more time to think about it. They said they plan to meet Monday and expect to make up their minds by that evening.
If the districts do not agree on a site by next weekend, the state Department of Education will revoke a $2 million grant it has conditionally awarded the group to purchase and renovate an existing building into a vocational center. Education programs at the site likely would include include welding, heavy equipment maintenance, automotive repair and early childhood development.
The new center would double the array of vocational offerings in a county that had the highest unemployment rate in Maine in February and the highest poverty rate. Some students travel as far as Ellsworth and Bucksport for vocational offerings that would be available in Washington County at the new center.
“We’re not going to make a decision tonight,” Teresa Saddler, a member of Machias’ school committee, told roughly 100 people who had gathered in the gymnasium of Narraguagus High School in Harrington. Approximately 30 school officials from area towns were at the meeting to try to reach a consensus while the other 70 or so were residents who attended to observe the discussion and, at times, to urge the school officials to pick a site.
Three of the school entities — SAD 37, Moosabec CSD and Cherryfield — each have publicly identified the former Columbia Supermarket in the Four Corners neighborhood on Route 1 as their preferred choice. Member towns of SAD 37 include Addison, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington and Milbridge, while Moosabec CSD comprises Beals and Jonesport.