SAD 75 board sets public hearing on Harpswell school closure

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TOPSHAM — School Administrative District 75 directors scheduled a Feb. 25 public hearing on the West Harpswell School closure referendum.

The hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Harpswell Islands School. The referendum is March 9.

While the School Board voted to close the West Harpswell School and move its students to the larger Harpswell Islands School, residents may vote at the referendum to keep the school open. If they do, the town would ultimately have to pay SAD 75 the cost savings that would have been created by closing the school.

The reimbursement requires separate authorization from Town Meeting on March 20.

At its Jan. 28 meeting the School Board also authorized the district to apply to the Maine Department of Education to either build a new high school or renovate the existing Mt. Ararat High School.

“When we make the application, it will be for either of those alternatives,” Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm said SAD 75 has until June to submit an application. The application must demonstrate the district’s need for a new or improved school; the state would then determine whether aid is warranted. Applicants are then ranked, and the state then decides, based on money available, how many applicants it can help.

During the last funding cycle a few years ago, the top 20 applicants received aid; Mt. Ararat High School, which opened in 1973, ranked 21st.

Among the existing school’s problems, Wilhelm said, is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that is at the end of its life cycle. Another issue is its open-space design, with multiple classrooms sharing the same area. Partitions have been erected to mitigate the problem in some areas, he said.

“There are no doors, so you can’t lock the door,” Wilhelm said. “You can’t lock down. The classrooms serve also as hallways, because they’re like three-deep, and they’re open.”

If a student has to go to the bathroom, he often walks through someone else’s classroom to get there, causing distractions, the superintendent said. If one class is watching a movie, the class in the next area will hear it.

“It’s certainly not ideal,” Wilhelm said.

Last year an architect determined that renovation would cost about $14 million. A new building would be about $39.7 million if the existing gym is maintained, or $45.5 million with a new gym.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

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.