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SAD 51 board votes to close North Yarmouth school

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SAD 51 board votes to close North Yarmouth school

CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors voted 6-1 Monday to close North Yarmouth Memorial School and move its students to an expanded Greely Middle School.

The decision now goes to a referendum in North Yarmouth and Cumberland, likely to be held in June 2013. Voters would also decide on that time on a construction bond, for expansion of the middle school, projected to cost $2 million.

The North Yarmouth Memorial School Task Force has recommended closing the school and moving its students to the middle school as a means of saving the district money. It has cited economic challenges, work needed at the North Yarmouth building, and declining enrollments.

Robert Vail, who cast the dissenting vote on closing the school, stated that "no taxpayer is going to see any savings in their tax bill (as a result of the proposal). ... It may slow the rate of your (tax) increase ... but it won't save you any tax dollars."

Vail, who also cast the only vote against expanding the middle school, argued that the district has the capacity to absorb the North Yarmouth school students without additional construction.

School Board member Martha Leggat of North Yarmouth voted with the majority, although she said her first-grade son cried when he heard the school might be closed, and that he would not be able to go to school in his town.

"It speaks to the emotion of a lot of kids and parents and community members in North Yarmouth, and I'm really sensitive to that," Leggat said. "... If it weren't for declining enrollment and economic issues, there'd be no question that we'd keep that school open."

Carol MacArthur, principal of North Yarmouth Memorial School, who has been part of the planning process, said she felt "pretty comfortable with the places that  we found for our students. ... I think (we have) some pretty exciting learning opportunities ... with the potential of us being in the same campus. ... I'm pretty confident that we'll make it work."

An additional administrator at Greely Middle School to meet the needs of the two younger grades has been factored into the project cost.

The School Board heard public comment on the matter Monday and at a meeting earlier this month. Concerns aired at the prior hearing included whether it is appropriate to place the North Yarmouth school's fourth- and fifth-graders in a building with older students; whether there would be enough classroom space at the enlarged middle school to serve the increased population, and the availability of parking.

Stephen Blatt, whose architectural firm has designed the middle school expansion, addressed those concerns Monday. Three new classrooms would be added on both the first and second floors, and one section of the second floor would be reserved for fourth- and fifth-graders, he said, keeping them largely separate from the older students.

Space would be added on the second floor for special education, and below that the cafeteria would be expanded with seating for more than 100 additional students.

The approximately 8,500-square-foot expansion would take about six months to build, Blatt said.

"It can be built without interfering with the use of the school," he added, since internal renovations would occur during the summer.

With the addition of new parking spaces and reallocation of existing ones, 76 spots would be designated for fourth- and fifth-grade staff and visitors.

Operational savings from closing the 36-year-old North Yarmouth school are estimated to be about $555,000. Renovating the middle school would add debt service of $178,000 a year over two decades, according to Scott Poulin, the district finance director. The net annual savings to the district would be about $377,000.

Through this course of action, SAD 51 could avoid renovating the North Yarmouth school, or building a new one. Poulin said renovation could cost about $7 million and create annual debt service payments of $623,000.

Also discussed Monday, but not voted on by the School Board, was a 2,400-square-foot expansion of the middle school gym. That could add about $500,000 to the total project price tag.

It would be the second time in two years that SAD 51 voters decide whether to close a school; they approved closing the Drowne Road School, and transferring its third-grade students to the Mabel I. Wilson School in Cumberland, in June 2011.

North Yarmouth voters rejected a referendum question last month that would have started the town's withdrawal from SAD 51, which North Yarmouth formed with Cumberland in 1966.

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