SAD 51 voters to get $2M school renovation bond

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CUMBERLAND — School Administrative District 51 directors Monday approved borrowing $2 million to expand and renovate Greely Middle School.

The proposal will go to voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth in June.

The work would accommodate the district’s fourth and fifth grades, which now attend North Yarmouth Memorial School. The School Board voted last December to close that building and move its students to an expanded Greely Middle School.

But the board tabled a proposal to purchase a nearly $154,000 generator for the middle school, and rejected three options for an expanded middle school gym, as well as reconfigurations at the Mabel I. Wilson elementary school in Cumberland.

All of the proposals would have required bond referendums.

The $2 million middle school renovation would include extra classroom and cafeteria space. The parking lot would be reconfigured to accommodate fourth- and fifth-grade staff and visitors.

SAD 51 voters will also vote on closure of the North Yarmouth school in June. Operational savings from closing that 36-year-old building are estimated at nearly $562,000.

Renovating the middle school would add debt service of $178,000 a year over two decades, according to Scott Poulin, the district finance director.

The net annual savings to the district would be nearly $384,000.

Through this course of action, SAD 51 could avoid renovating the North Yarmouth school, or building a new one. Poulin has said renovation could cost about $7 million and create annual debt service payments of $623,000.

The School Board voted 6-2 in favor of the middle school work, with members Robert Vail and Virginia Dwyer opposed. Vail, who voted last December against expanding the middle school, argued at the time that the district has the capacity to absorb the North Yarmouth school students without additional construction.

During discussion about the generator, Superintendent Robert Hasson said Greely Middle School serves as an emergency shelter for the area, noting that the proposed generator could power everything except for air conditioning. He said the district is looking for assistance, including grants, to fund the generator.

Vail favored tabling the matter. “I think it’s premature to spend $150,000 that we don’t have,” he said. “There is a huge generator at the Town Hall; there’s a generator at the Fire Department.”

He added that a committee should look into the matter to determine the level of community need.

The School Board voted 7-0 to table, with Jim Bailinson abstaining.

The School Board was presented with three options for expanding the Greely Middle School gym: a 2,340-square-foot addition for $817,000; an approximately 3,800-square-foot addition at $1.2 million, and and approximately 5,800-square-foot addition for $1.6 million.

The expansion “would be nice to have,” School Board Co-Chairman Jeff Porter said, “but I don’t think, given our budget restraints, this is something we can afford.”

Bill Dunnett, who voted for each of the options, asked his fellow board members to consider voting for at least one option, in order to send the question to voters for a decision.

Co-Chairman Bill Richards abstained from voting on the first option, but voted in favor of the next two, while the rest of the board opposed all three.

The board also rejected the interior reconfiguration of part of the first floor of the Mabel. I Wilson School.

The $481,000 proposal was geared toward improving security, by moving the main office closer to the main entrance. The library, now in that location, would move to the existing special education area, which would in turn move to the current office site.

In opposing the expenditure, Vail pointed out that the school district has a new security system, which costs $271,000, or $31,000 a year through a lease-purchase program. It includes cameras, card-readers and door-entry buzzers for all the schools.

Vail said he would like to “see how that plays out, and how it operates … . I just think (the renovations are) unwarranted at this time.”

Hasson said the building was renovated in 1993, six years before the school shootings in Columbine, Colo. He said the new security system is necessary regardless of where the school office is placed.

The reconfiguration “allows the office staff to see someone who is approaching the building, along the walkway,” architect Stephen Blatt added.

Porter, however, said “every single item that we have dealt with this evening … is an additional expenditure to take away from the savings of closing (North Yarmouth Middle School),” noting that the financial savings were the only reason he voted to close that school.

“I don’t pretend for a second that it was designed properly, but that building has served us well,” Porter added. “And at some point we are going to need to spend some money there; I would prefer that be at a time when we are growing as a district, and more kids are coming into the system.”

Bailinson argued that “the experts say that having a school office in a place that can really oversee and control access is crucial. I don’t think a remote system with cameras and buzzers is a substitute.”

He pointed out that the cost of borrowing for the Mabel I. Wilson work would amount to about $40,000 a year. “I, for one, would feel it’s a huge breach of my fiduciary duty not to spend this $40,000 a year to … radically improve the security of that building.”

The board ultimately voted 7-1 against the project, with Bailinson in the minority.

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

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.