Harpswell votes to own West Harpswell School

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HARPSWELL — Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly decided the town should take ownership of West Harpswell School.

Only 524, or 13 percent, of the town’s nearly 4,000 voters cast ballots in the special referendum. The majority, 404, voted in favor of taking ownership of the school; 120 voted against it.

Since February, a special school re-use task force has been meeting to discuss ideas for re-using the property, and educating residents about what taking over the school would mean.

The task force held forums throughout the summer, although Hope Hilton, who lead the panel, said none were very well attended, which made it difficult to gauge community opinion.

“It’s hard to read whether people just weren’t that aware of it,” Hilton said. “Every forum we had, not as many people came as one might think.”

The school wrapped up its final academic year in June, just months after Harpswell residents voted for a School Administrative District 75 plan to close the school and transfer its students to the consolidated Harpswell Community School.

The only article on Tuesday’s ballot asked voters if they would like to transfer ownership of the school property from SAD 75 to the town, and appropriate $25,000 to cover maintenance costs until the 2012 annual Town Meeting.

Voters from Harpswell Neck and Mountain Road turned out in the greatest numbers and had the highest percentage of affirmative votes, 85 percent. At the Orr’s Island and Cundy’s Harbor polling stations, 68 percent and 60 percent of voters, respectively, voted yes.

In coming weeks, the Board of Selectmen will create a committee to study how to reuse West Harpswell School, and examine the deed to the property before accepting it from SAD 75.

Meanwhile, staff, parents and teachers have been working to get Harpswell Community School ready for the new school year.

Principal Kerry Bailey said the theme of the 2011-2012 year is “together we make a difference.” She said the idea behind the theme is to recognize that the new school is a combination of two elementary school communities, which together will reach for success.

The school received a face-lift over the summer, with new floors in the gymnasium and art room, and murals on the walls. The colors are designed to “bring the outside in,” Bailey said, and reflect the sea and sky.

Students will also enter the school through the middle of the building, instead of through a side door. The change, she said, means kindergartners won’t have to walk as far to their classrooms.

As of Wednesday, Bailey said, 166 students had enrolled at HCS, which is about what she projected.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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