West Bath restriction a hurdle for new RSU 1 high school

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BATH — Regional School Unit 1, which has an option in place to purchase land for a new high school at the Wing Farm business park, must work out a restriction imposed on the property through a federal grant.

The district was approved in October by the City Council to purchase a 26-acre business park parcel for $277,500, an average of appraisals arranged by the city and the RSU. The district must exercise the option by July 31, 2017.

A Wing Farm Economic Development Administration grant given jointly to Bath and West Bath provided the necessary funds to start development of the Wing Farm business park, and, unless the EDA amends or removes that condition, the new school cannot be built at Wing Farm, according to a West Bath press release.

“Though not a participant in discussions or negotiations to date, West Bath welcomes a new Morse High School and is committed to work through the grant amendment process, along with the City of Bath,” the press release said. “The Town has dedicated itself to expedite that process and to facilitate the necessary meetings and discussions to get that job done as quickly as possible to pave the way for the new school facility.”

The EDA would consider modifying or removing the condition if the parties involved agree that “the stipulated new use as a secondary school is the best use, it is mutually beneficial to the communities, beneficial to all parties of the grant, and that the EDA be reimbursed at fair market value for the grant funds originally provided.”

An appraisal of the portion of Wing Farm Phase II that West Bath owns, necessary so that RSU 1 knows how much to reimburse the EDA, was due to conclude this week, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said last week. By reimbursing the EDA, the EDA would modify or remove a restriction that bars nonprofits, such as schools, from locating at Wing Farm, he confirmed.

The Bath portion of the business park subject to the EDA requirement has been appraised. But since West Bath has been part of the overall park, that town’s remaining portion must also be appraised, since the values need to be adjusted with the park being split up.

“West Bath is working with both City of Bath and RSU 1 to explore options which will best serve all of the parties,” Peter Oceretko, chairman of the West Bath Board of Selectmen, said last week. “We’re all in agreement that a new high school is needed and we all are working together to see that need is met.”

West Bath, which helped establish RSU 1 in 2007, seceded from the district in 2014.

Public input sought

Meanwhile, with much planning for a new Morse High School expected in the first several months of 2017, RSU 1 is seeking input from residents of the four communities in the district.

Manuel said Dec. 14 that he hopes a straw poll about the site of the future school – the sixth step in a 21-part, state-mandated process – takes place in January or February.

In addition to the city land for which it has a purchase option, RSU 1 is also considering buying 2 Anchor Road, also for sale, in order to facilitate an entrance to the school, Manuel said.

Public meetings about the school are to be held Jan. 5, 12 and 26, Feb. 9 and 16, and March 9, 23 and 30. They will take place in Room 301 of the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center, 800 High St.

The following groups will meet on those days: Design Sub-Committee, 10-11 a.m.; Sustainability Sub-Committee, 11 a.m. to noon; and Building Committee, 12:30 p.m.

Presentations to municipal officials are scheduled for Jan. 11 in Phippsburg, Jan. 17 in Woolwich, and Feb. 1 in Bath. An Arrowsic date is forthcoming.

Public forums, likely to be held in the evening to gather community input, are in the planning process.

The RSU 1 board last October unanimously supported rebuilding Morse at a different site than where the High Street is now located. The decision followed a study that determined the nearly 90-year-old school is unsuitable for renovation or expansion.

The school would be built close to the district’s central office at 34 Wing Farm Parkway.

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

The six lots Regional School Unit 1 plans to buy from the city of Bath comprise 26 acres of the Wing Farm business park. RSU 1’s main office sits just south of the parcels.

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.