FREEPORT — A $16.9 million proposal to expand Freeport High School suffered a narrow defeat Tuesday, while a $25.8 million budget passed comfortably.
Voters in Durham and Pownal overwhelmingly rejected both referendum questions, but the school project was still a close call. The tally for all three towns in Regional School Unit 5 put the total votes at 2,202-2,028, a difference of 174.
According to results posted by Regional School Unit 5, voters in Durham trounced the proposal 828-287. In Pownal, voters rejected the plan 472-118.
In Freeport, it was a vastly different story: Voters favored the project 1,623-902.
The other big referendum question – whether to authorize a $25.8 million fiscal 2014 budget for Regional School Unit 5 – passed by a of 698 votes at 2,414-1,716. In Durham, voters rejected the budget 701-399. In Pownal, voters rejected the budget 395-182, according to RSU 5.
Freeport voters approved the budget by a wide margin, 1,833-620.
The $16.9 million bond proposal called for renovations and several additions to the high school, including nine new classrooms to accommodate projected growth in enrollment. The plan also calls for an eight-lane track and athletic field to replace the current grass field.
Lindsay Sterling, president of pro-expansion advocacy group Friends of Freeport High School, said the outcome was an obvious setback to her group of about 125 active members.
“Setbacks are part of any major achievement,” Sterling said in a written statement Wednesday. “We will fix the conditions for the kids and staff at FHS. This particular vote wasn’t the way we’re going to do it. Stay tuned.”
Many voters leaving the polls Tuesday in Freeport said they voted with their children in mind.
Steve Voter, 32, a father of four, pushed a stroller out of the polling station. Tucked inside were newborn twins – a boy and a girl. Wife Mikki Voter said she and her husband voted in favor of the bond.
“I just think it’s important that we have enough room,” she said, motioning to her children. “As these guys get older, we’re going to need it. The community is growing.”
Damian Hall, 37, voted for the bond because he wanted to keep Freeport competitive with other coastal towns, particularly Yarmouth.
“It’s about property values, the schools and Friday night lights,” he said. “It’s all about community building. It’s really important.”
Several residents who voted against the bond cited the athletic track as a stumbling block. Kenshi Imura, 39, an abutter to the proposed track, said he was concerned about the direct impact on his land, plus the added expense.
“That seemed like a little too much for me,” he said. “I’m all for improvements to the high school, and I approved the budget, but the field is too much.”
Angie Arsenault, 36, expressed similar sentiments. She said she supports school improvements, but voted against the bond because of the athletic fields.
“I understand that the school is getting to be too small, but the athletic stuff seems excessive when people are struggling to buy groceries and gas,” she said.
The building, which dates back to 1961, has had previous additions in 1968, 1974, 1985 and 2003. The most recent addition added six science classrooms and a performing arts center.
The $25.8 million RSU 5 budget was adopted during a public meeting on May 22, and includes about $200,000 for teacher retirement payouts traditionally paid for by the state, and $70,000 to hire a math teaching strategist to help low-performing students.
The spending plan represents more than a 4 percent increase from the current, fiscal 2013 budget.