Supt.: Closing Harpswell school minimally lengthens bus routes

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HARPSWELL — If the West Harpswell School is closed, alternate bus routes taking those students to the Harpswell Islands School would take only about five to six minutes longer than the current longest trip, School Administrative District 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said this week.

A strategic planning action team, which met Monday and is weighing the pros and cons of consolidating Harpswell’s two elementary schools, decided last week not to look into closing the West Harpswell school after this year, but rather after the 2010-2011 academic year. 

“What we’d asked the transportation director to do,” Wilhelm said, “was … to see how the buses could be rerouted so the time that the kids were on the bus was not exceptionally long. And he was able to get it down to about 50 minutes for the longest (trip).”

Currently the West Harpswell bus route begins in the area of Mountain Road on Route 123, then travels toward the school. One route takes about 44 minutes and the other 45, Wilhelm said.

Reaching the Harpswell Islands School requires traveling to the other side of Harpswell via Mountain Road. With the two bus routes re-arranged, though, they would both begin in the area of the West Harpswell School and travel up toward Mountain Road via Route 123, crossing that road and then traveling on Route 24 to the Harpswell Islands School, each arriving there in about 50 minutes.

The planning team also discussed how the change could impact enrollment at the Harpswell Islands School. Enrollment at both schools is expected to continue to decline.

Harpswell Islands had enrollment of 259 in 1997, and dropped to 203 by 2000 and 173 in 2001, around the time that sixth-graders left both of Harpswell’s schools to attend Mt. Ararat Middle School. Aside from a rise to 187 in 2002, the school population has continued to dwindle; it was 111 last September and is now down to 101.

Meanwhile, West Harpswell had a population of 124 in 1998 that has gradually dropped to 71, Wilhelm said.

The current combined enrollment of the two schools, 172, is expected to hit 55-58 2011.

The planning team will next meet at the West Harpswell School at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 29.

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.