BATH — Attendance was light Wednesday evening at the final public hearing on plans for a new Woolwich Central School, leading some advocates of the project to hope that the small turnout was a sign of silent support.
Voters in Regional School Unit 1 – which includes Bath, Woolwich, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and West Bath – go to the polls in their individual communities on Wednesday, March 25, to decide whether to spend the money to build the school.
It is a project a decade in the making. The state will fund $18.2 million of the $18.9 million cost, while Maine High Performance Schools will pay more than $150,000 and RSU 1 about $567,000.
Amortized over 20 years, the local share totals $2.50 per person per year.
If approved, construction on the elementary school would begin next July and wrap up in September 2012. During that time Woolwich students would be moved to the Huse School in Bath, where the RSU 1 administrative offices are housed, temporary modules and the nearby Small School.
The current, 32,000-square-foot school was built more than 50 years ago. Two additions – a 1973 classroom wing and the 1985 gym/cafeteria – will remain and be renovated. The size of the facility will more than double to nearly 67,000 square feet.
While the current structure costs more than $22,000 to heat each year, its successor would reduce that cost by about $5,000, thanks to the new use of wood chips.
RSU 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said the larger school will draw more families to the community, hence more students, which would bring more revenue to the district in state subsidies – about $6,000 per child. Currently the school serves about 300 students, and it is built for 375.
The superintendent expects the school to fill quickly. Shuttleworth said that since Monday he had taken calls from parents of 11 children who live outside the RSU. They asked whether their children would be guaranteed placement in the new school if they moved to the area; Shuttleworth confirmed they would if they lived in RSU 1 communities.
Explaining why a new school draws new students, Shuttleworth said he recently read that student achievement increases between 11 percent and 15 percent when children attend a new school.
“This is a 75-year solution,” David Miller, a member of the school building committee, told the meeting at Bath Middle School. “I’d like to think that it’s a prototype for the next investment, going to our other elementary schools and providing the same experience for other parts of the RSU that this school will do for Woolwich.”
Shuttleworth has previously said he heard a state architect say that after Woolwich, another school may not be built in Maine for 10 years.
“This is our shot,” Miller said. “This is money that is pledged to the RSU for the building of this project. If we were not to have a successful referendum, the project would fail, the money would go to the next town in line. So there is no looking back on this project.”
Charles Durfee of Woolwich, who represents that town and Bath on the RSU 1 Board of Directors, pointed out that while the best is done to keep the school looking good these days, it’s getting tougher.
“She’s an old girl,” he said. “We need a new one.”