RSU 1 residents to vote on Woolwich school plan
BATH — Voters in Regional School Unit 1 will go to the polls March 25 to decide whether a new school should be built in Woolwich.
The Maine Department of Education has approved the $18.9 million project, which would serve 375 pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students. The school would be built on the current Woolwich Central School site.
Construction is supposed to begin in July, with the school planned to open in September 2012.
Residents in all five RSU 1 municipalities – Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich – will foot the $566,000 local share of the project. The state will fund $18.2 million and Efficiency Maine's Maine High Performance Schools program will contribute more than $150,000.
The local share breaks down to an average of about $2.50 per person across the district over 20 years, according to the school district.
But the local cost is divided among the five communities in the same proportion as the RSU 1 budget allocation, based on student population, property valuation and population of the community. Bath, the largest of the five communities, would pay for about half the project. Woolwich would pay 16.8 percent, Phippsburg 17.4 percent, West Bath 12.5 percent and Arrowsic 3 percent.
While the project presents an expense to the district's residents, RSU 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said there will be many benefits.
"I only have 300 students right now at Woolwich," Shuttleworth said on Monday. "That school is built for 375. And the research shows that all new schools are filled to capacity within six months to a year after they're built."
The extra number of students means the RSU should receive more money from the state, Shuttleworth said. "Seventy kids brings about $6,000 a child, so it's almost half a million dollars a year in increased revenue (to the district) once we are up to full capacity," he explained.
Shuttleworth said the added students are coming from families that have moved to the area. "People will move to a town with a new school, just like that" he said, snapping his fingers.
The school is being built in Woolwich instead of Bath, Shuttleworth said, because no previous Bath superintendent submitted an application to the state for new school construction. He added that the state has frozen applications for new construction, but Bath is ready for that process when it reopens.
For the two years the school is built, its students will be housed at the Huse School in Bath – the location of RSU 1's administrative offices – and nearby buildings.
"The remuneration that Bath gets is that I have to upgrade my schools here to (house the students) ... and the state pays for those upgrades," Shuttleworth said, referring to improvements in accessibility, heating and fire code compliance.
Fifteen percent of the children attending Woolwich are not from that town, he explained, "so kids from all the (RSU 1) towns are currently accessing Woolwich as a school-choice town."
The current school is more than 50 years old and costly to maintain. Shuttleworth said it has inadequate heating, electrical, ventilation, communication and safety systems, code violations that are expensive to fix, leaks in the roof, portable classrooms without water or bathroom facilities, an inadequate septic system in need of repair and other issues.
The proposed nearly 67,000-square-foot school, with a three-story classroom wing, would have a wood-chip-fueled heating system that will reduce fuel costs from $21,000 to $17,000 each year, and a more efficient lighting and electrical system that uses solar tubes and has motion detectors to shut off lights when rooms are empty.
The entire building would be handicapped accessible, and it would use an upgraded septic system and also provide a separation of bus, car and pedestrian traffic to reduce congestion and provide safer access.
There would be new music, art, tutoring and expeditionary learning rooms, along with the addition of pre-kindergarten, and there would also be new baseball, softball and soccer fields that meet middle school standards. A walking trail will surround the facility, and the existing basketball court and playground would be moved to enhance safety.
A third- to fifth-grade wing built in 1973 and the gym/cafeteria, built in 1985, are two existing portions of the school that would be retained and renovated.
Shuttleworth said he heard a state architect say that after Woolwich, there may not be another new school built in Maine for another decade.
"So this is now or never for us," he said.
• FYI: A public meeting on a new Woolwich school will be held at Bath Middle School at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 11.