Freeport withdrawal advocate resigns from Regional School Unit 5 board

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FREEPORT — Following the failed Regional School Unit 5 withdrawal referendum, Peter Murray has resigned from the RSU Board of Directors.

Murray, who was also the chairman of the Freeport Withdrawal Committee, announced his resignation at the board’s Nov. 19 meeting. The town is accepting applications from residents interested in filling the seat. 

Murray, who is one year into his second term, will formally resign Dec. 31. At the board meeting he said his decision came after “a good degree of rather intense deliberation” and “some soul searching.”

“Over the past year, as many of you know, I’ve been the chair of the withdrawal committee and in the rather awkward position of negotiating against my own board for the withdrawal of Freeport from the RSU, and I think this has comprised my ability to really effectively represent the best interest of the kids and my town on the board,” Murray said Nov. 19.

The town on Nov. 4 voted 2,228 to 2,152 to stay in the school unit it has shared with Durham and Pownal since 2009. The withdrawal committee was formed in January.

Murray on Monday said another reason for his resignation is that after working so hard for Freeport to be its own district, he isn’t in favor of a consolidated district with the other two towns.

“I put forward the plan I thought was best and voters elected to go a different route,” Murray said. “I think someone who believes in that route should be in that seat.”

RSU 5 board member Beth Parker said Murray “put all his effort into withdrawal and it didn’t pass. He feels that because he put all this effort in, he doesn’t want people to be suspicious of the way he votes (in board meetings).”

The Town Council will accept applications for the seat through Dec. 1 at noon. Candidates are required to attend the Dec. 2 Town Council meeting to make a public statement.

Among those who will apply is Nelson Larkins, who was unseated from the board Nov. 4. Larkins had been the chairman for five years and a member of the board since the RSU was formed.

Larkins lost to newcomer Lindsay Sterling, who received 2,010 votes, and Parker, who received 1,901. Larkins received 1,454 votes. 

He said he is grateful for the opportunity to try and get back on the board.

“It’s a unique situation and I still feel that I can contribute, especially with helping the three communities move forward,” Larkins said. “I’d still be very happy to serve on the board.”

High school renovation

After Murray announced his resignation, the board moved on to other topics, including the discussion of a contract with an architect for the renovation of Freeport High School.

The board approved beginning work with Lyndon Keck of PDT Architects in Portland on the bonded renovations approved by voters in Nov. 2013. But because the project was put on hold for a year until the withdrawal issue was resolved, the $14 million bond will no longer cover the cost of the original renovation plans.

“That means that the project will start from a perspective where there will have to be cuts made,” interim Superintendent Bill Michaud said Nov. 19.

Keck said to stay within the budget, the school may have to be smaller than originally planned.

“The building committee will have to do what Superintendent Michaud has already talked about, which is value engineering,” Keck said. “We’re going to have to find a way to make this building smarter. It might end up being a little smaller.”

The building committee mentioned by Keck was also part of a motion passed by the board. The committee has yet to be appointed, but will include three teachers, three school administrators, the Freeport High School principal, nine community members (three from each town in the RSU), and three students (one from each town).

Now that Keck has been hired, Michaud said they hope to get the project out to bid by the end of next summer with construction to start in the fall. He said the renovations should be completed by late 2017.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.