New RSU 1 high school nears solution to grant restriction

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BATH — The city and Regional School Unit 1 plan to pay to get out of a federal grant restriction imposed on property at the Wing Farm business park, in order to move forward with a new high school.  

The City Council last October approved RSU 1’s option to purchase a 26-acre parcel at the business park for $277,500. The district must exercise the option by July 31.

RSU 1 and its project architect will present a site update to the City Council at the panel’s 6 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Feb. 1, at City Hall. Subsequent updates will take place at Woolwich Town Hall, 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, and Arrowsic Town Hall, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13.

A U.S. Economic Development Administration grant given jointly to Bath and West Bath provided the necessary funds to start development of the Wing Farm business park. But unless the EDA amends or removes a condition that bars nonprofits, including schools, from locating at Wing Farm, the new school cannot be built there, a West Bath press release stated late last year.

The EDA would consider modifying or removing the condition if the parties involved agree that “the stipulated new use as a secondary school is the best use, it is mutually beneficial to the communities, beneficial to all parties of the grant, and that the EDA be reimbursed at fair market value for the grant funds originally provided,” the press release stated.

An appraisal of the portion of Wing Farm Phase II that West Bath owns, necessary so that RSU 1 knows how much to reimburse the EDA, was done last month. By reimbursing the EDA, the agency would modify or remove the restriction, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel has said.

For the condition to be removed, Bath will pay for its portion of the EDA buyout, and RSU 1 will pay for West Bath’s portion, West Bath Town Administrator Adam Garland said in an interview Jan. 17. The West Bath portion was appraised at $60,000, so RSU 1 would pay the EDA half that amount, as per buyout terms in the EDA agreement, Garland said.

With two appraisals done by Bath and RSU 1 on Bath’s portion averaging at $277,500, the city would pay the EDA half of that, or $138,750, Bath Economic Development Director Scott LaFlamme said Jan. 17.

“That doesn’t sell anybody any land; it releases the EDA grant restrictions from the property,” he explained. “Once that’s taken care of, the opportunity for the school would be there.”

The appraisals will be submitted for approval by the EDA, which could accept them or decide that they are too low, Garland said. The municipalities and RSU 1 could hear back in one or two months.

West Bath, which helped form RSU 1 in 2007, seceded from the district in 2014.

The RSU 1 board in October 2015 unanimously supported rebuilding Morse at a different site than its current High Street location. The decision followed a study that determined the nearly 90-year-old school is unsuitable for renovation or expansion.

The school would be built close to RSU 1’s central office at 34 Wing Farm Parkway.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The six lots Regional School Unit 1 plans to buy from the city of Bath comprise 26 acres of the Wing Farm business park. RSU 1’s main office sits just south of the parcels.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.