The town of Stockton Springs will soon be the new owner of a moldy elementary school, after residents voted on Election Day to accept the gift that had been offered by Regional School Unit 20.
Stockton Springs residents voted 230 to 57 to accept Stockton Springs Elementary School, which was closed for good by the district two years ago. The gift was also offered to the town of Searsport, the other community in the two-town school district, but voters rejected it by 55 to 38.
Turnout in both communities was low during the off-year election, clerks said. Searsport has about 1,850 registered voters, and only 5 percent of them weighed in on whether to accept the school. In Stockton Springs, just over 20 percent of the 1,380 registered voters participated in the decision.
“I’m definitely excited for the town. I think it’s a really great opportunity,” Stockton Springs Town Manager Courtney O’Donnell said Wednesday morning. “There’s certainly a lot of research to be done, hopefully sooner rather than later … overall, the board is looking to put their best foot forward, to make sure due diligence is done regarding the options.”
That’s because the school district’s gift, though free, does come with some strings attached: namely, the mold dilemma now must be solved by the new owner, the town of Stockton Springs.
When the school was in use, mold was not a problem. But after a year of the building being unused and shut up tight, school staff made the unwelcome discovery last August that mold had bloomed undisturbed on carpets, furniture, doors and more. An assessment done after that discovery recommended that the school be essentially gutted, then intensively cleaned, to manage the mold.
School district officials opened bids to do the remediation work in April, and found that the lowest came in at $145,850. The same day board members opened the bids, they voted to offer the mold-ridden school to the towns of Stockton Springs and Searsport for free.
The school is about 23,000 square feet and includes a gymnasium, kitchen and classrooms. It sits on a 9.5-acre parcel that includes a playground, a field and a small shed. At a public hearing in May, Stockton Springs officials and more than 50 people talked about options for the school, which include fixing it, demolishing it but keeping the land, and working with investors and developers to determine the future use of the school property.
O’Donnell said that it simplifies things for Stockton Springs that Searsport voters did not also want the school.
“If Searsport had accepted it, there would have been some negotiation needed. It definitely would have complicated things,” she said.
As it stands, Stockton Springs alone will need to research options about the property. The school district will officially hand over the school to the town at the end of July, and the town manager said that residents will be asked for their input on next steps.
“There will undoubtedly be public hearings,” she said.