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Harpswell charter school gets more time to weigh building options

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Harpswell charter school gets more time to weigh building options

HARPSWELL — Harpswell Coastal Academy needs more time to decide whether to extend its lease of the former West Harpswell School, purchase the building, or find another home.

Under the charter school's one-year, $20,000 lease, which expires next July, the town agreed not to market the school building to anyone else until after Dec. 31.

But that stipulation has now been informally extended to April 1, 2014, following a request from HCA's board to delay negotiations.

"We were informed that the academy needed more time to determine if West Harpswell School will be its long-term home," Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said last week. "... I got a sense that the selectmen are willing to wait."

Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Elinor Multer called HCA's decision to delay negotiations "disappointing."

"The contract said they were supposed to make a decision about it," she said.  "We really didn't have much of a choice, so yes, we're giving them (more time)."

Joseph Grady, HCA chairman, said the action was all about timing.

"It really came down to once we realized the scope of the job, we just didn't have enough time" to move forward, he said. "...  It was not our first choice to ask for some more time, but that's what we needed to do take a serious look at what's best for us moving forward."

HCA has about 60 students in grades 6 and 9, and is slated to expand to 280 students in grades 6-12 by the 2017-2018 school year.

Grady said the former school building is not designed for that kind of capacity, which is why HCA is taking time to decide its long-term location.

When April's deadline comes up, Grady said his board will have three options: Expand the building, add satellite locations, or find a new location.

"We would prefer one of the first two options," he said.

In the upcoming months, Grady said, most of HCA's work will involve working with inspectors and contractors to fully assess the three options.

"We have a site committee working hard," he said, "and we feel really good about being able to come back with a solid understand of what our own possibilities are."

Multer said selectmen haven't made a decision about whether to begin marketing the property, but they will probably let it sit for now.

"I think the selectmen share the view that selling it to HCA would be an excellent way to sell it," she said. "... So I don't know. We may just sit on it."

Regardless of who ends up buying the building, a sale of the school building will have to be approved by voters at Town Meeting, Eiane said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.