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RSU 5 voters OK 1 Freeport High School bond, reject track & field

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RSU 5 voters OK 1 Freeport High School bond, reject track & field

FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 voters on Tuesday approved a $14.6 million bond to fund sweeping renovations at Freeport High School, but rejected a $1.7 million bond to fund a new turf field and running track at the school.

The base bond passed 2,324 to 2,252. It was supported in Freeport, 1,639 to 1,029, and rejected by voters in Durham voters, 828-467, and Pownal, 395-218.

The track-and-field bond was rejected 2,793 to 1,776. It passed in Freeport by a narrow margin, 1,340 to 1,322, but was trounced in Durham, 966-327, and Pownal, 505-109.

"I'm really pleased that voters realized and prioritized the fact that we need an update and expansion of facilities for the kids," Nelson Larkins, chair of the RSU5 Board, said. "I'm very pleased with that.

"I wish we could also have the track and field because the opportunities those facilities would give to the kids would be great," Larkins said. "But the bond that passed does include improvements to our varsity and field hockey fields, which is important for drainage and to make them more playable than they are."

If Freeport residents vote Dec. 17 to secede from the RSU, the bond that passed will become a moot point.

"If Freeport votes to withdraw, the bonds will not be issued and no money will be spent," according to an RSU fact sheet on the renovation bonds. "Approving the bonds now means work can begin immediately should Freeport vote not to withdraw."

If voters choose not to withdraw, the bond will be paid off over 20 years. It will fund a two-story, 30,000-square-foot addition to the high school where the industrial arts building now stands. That addition will contain a kitchen, cafeteria, band room and several classrooms, and be designed to accommodate a third-floor addition for future enrollment. It will also renovate the school's oldest section, built in 1961, with a new entrance and more energy-efficient roofing and windows.

The median estimated annual contribution for property owners, based on residential property taxes in September 2013, will be about $134 for Freeport residents, almost $181 for Pownal residents, and $136 for Durham residents, according to the RSU.

At the polls at Freeport High School on Tuesday, voters weighed the school's physical limitations, which include overcrowding and failures to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, with tax implications and Freeport's potential withdrawal from RSU 5.

"With every upgrade (to the school), students have benefited and the town has grown a little more," said Patrick Pettit, 60, who supported the bonds and whose father once served as chairman of Freeport's School Board. "A lot of the opponents haven't lived here as long as I have."

"When I went there, it fit everybody just fine," said Kelcie Simmons, a member of the Freeport High School Class of 2009, who voted against the bonds. Simmons said the Morse Street elementary school in Freeport is in greater need of renovations.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, proponents of the second bond argued that a turf field would save money on field repairs in the long run. They also cited the fact the track team must travel to Bowdoin College in Brunswick to train.

But the RSU 5 Board could not have been very surprised by Tuesday's results. After voters in June rejected a $16.9 million high school renovation proposal, the board surveyed voters to see what aspects of the renovations they might support.

The board thought it had a better chance of getting a bond passed if it made the new track and field, seen by some voters as a luxury, a separate item.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.