Since the formation of Regional School Unit 1, it has long been known that we have some very old facilities. Prior to the construction of the new school in Woolwich, we had the infamous distinction of having the oldest group of school buildings in the state.
One of the primary charges of a school board is the management and maintenance of the physical plants in the school system. Yet RSU 1 has faced a number of budgetary constraints and other challenges that have taken a priority each year over addressing the needs of our facilities.
Last year the board made it a priority to closely investigate the status of our facilities and determine a plan of action. We talked at length with Dave Richards, our facilities director. We reviewed the facilities section of the report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which governs the accreditation of Morse High School. We hired an outside engineering firm, Harriman Associates, to conduct two pre-studies of our facilities.
Following this investigation, we realized that we have many systems that require attention: heating, hot water, ventilation, roofing, electrical, and plumbing systems have all exceeded their expected life. As a result, the Finance and Facilities Committees met regularly over the summer to determine need, establish priorities, and explore financing. This joint committee presented a list of projects to the board in August, along with a price tag. After initial review, the committee chose to revisit the list and look at alternative means of financing.
The hope of the board is to come up with a list of projects that will sustain our facilities through the next five to 10 years, while we continue to work diligently on the long-term future of the district’s facilities.
Morse is currently ranked 11th on the list for state-financed schools, but we feel the reality of that happening is at least 10-12 years out, if not longer. The board passed a motion on Sept. 23 to go to the public in November to request a bond for improvements to our facilities. The bond amount would be $5.2 million, to be financed over 10 years. The cost of this bond would be phased in as we retire current debt, so the net effect to our budget would constitute an annual increase of 1 percent or less – a far cry from the initial proposal of a 4-5 percent increase.
At the end of the day, the board has an obligation to pass on to the community the results of the research we have done over the past year, and the current state of need in the district. All of the items that we are proposing to tackle directly affect safety concerns or achieve code compliance within our schools.
While these improvements will not be readily visible to the public, they will greatly improve the operation of our facilities and give the board, and the community, the time it needs to conduct long-term planning without the fear of a school shutdown due to system failure. We hope that you will support the work of the Board and participate in one of the information sessions leading up to the November vote.
Tim Harkins is chairman of the Board of Directors of Regional School Unit 1 in Bath.