SAD 51 seeks input on fate of North Yarmouth school

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors will hear public comment next week on a recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School.

The School Board will also decide whether to send the district’s fiscal 2013 budget to an April 12 public hearing.

The Monday, April 2, meeting on North Yarmouth Memorial School, initially scheduled for Greely High School in Cumberland, was changed late last week to the North Yarmouth school at 120 Memorial Highway. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

Superintendent Robert Hasson said Monday that the change was meant “to make it … closer to those people that may want to comment, from North Yarmouth, on the North Yarmouth Memorial School Task Force report.”

The task force is recommending that the 36-year-old school be closed, and its students moved to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland. While the intent of the proposal is to save SAD 51 more than half a million dollars a year, it could also provide fuel for an ongoing petition drive to withdraw North Yarmouth from the district.

Task force Chairman Mark Girard has compared the task force’s work to the first leg of a marathon, and said he expects the School Board to discuss the matter thoughtfully.

The task force, which presented a draft of its executive summary to the School Board on Feb. 6, did not suggest a date to close the school.

Girard said in an e-mail last month that “with the higher operating costs and the excess space increasing as the school population, per projections, decreases over the next five years, it was the committee’s recommendation that the school be closed and those savings captured.”

The executive summary notes that the North Yarmouth school’s grades four and five could be moved to Greely Middle, School while preserving those student groups in “relative isolation” from the middle school’s current sixth through eighth grades.

To facilitate the two additional grades, the task force has recommended the 130,000-square-foot middle school be expanded with a 4,000-square-foot two-story addition to the cafeteria and library, along with another 4,000-square-foot two-story addition for four new classrooms.

The North Yarmouth school is 41,000 square feet and has 3,000 square feet of temporary classroom trailers, Girard has noted. Subtracting the 8,000 square feet of proposed new space at the middle school, SAD 51 would have a net reduction of 36,000 square feet of building area to maintain.

Projections for the 2013-2014 school year are that the Greely Middle School student population will be 473, while North Yarmouth Memorial School’s will be 312, for a combined total of 785 students.

The document notes that closing the North Yarmouth school would save about $750,000 a year. This, offset by about $200,000 a year in added financed capital and operational costs due to the middle school’s expansion, would result in a net savings of about $550,000 a year.

The additions are projected to have a cost of $2 million, which would be financed by borrowing. Annual costs would be about $180,000 in principal and interest expenses, and additional operational costs for the expanded middle school would be about $20,000.

SAD 51 voters approved the closure of the Drowne Road School in Cumberland last June, echoing a School Board vote the previous year. The third grade was moved to the Mabel I. Wilson School, also in Cumberland.

The recommended North Yarmough school closure could generate more support for former Selectman Mark Verrill, who is collecting signatures for the withdrawal of North Yarmouth from SAD 51. He advocates maintaining a school in North Yarmouth, which formed SAD 51 with Cumberland in 1966.

Next year’s School Administrative District 51 budget, as proposed by Hasson, would increase 5.9 percent.

The current $28.9 million budget would increase in fiscal 2013 to nearly $30.6 million, a $1.7 million climb. The fiscal 2012 budget, a nearly 3 percent increase over the previous year, followed three years of flat budgets of $28 million.

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

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.