2013-10-25 / Front Page

Board sends school plans to vote

School renovation referendum set for Jan. 21
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK—The Regional School Unit 21 school board voted 7-2 on Monday, Oct. 21 to send the $75 million renovation plans for Mildred L. Day School, Consolidated School and Kennebunk High School to a Jan. 21 referendum vote.

The proposed plans or designs for each of the three schools – even though they are now being put to a referendum vote, – are not necessarily concrete, said Superintendent Andrew Dolloff.

Dolloff also made clear that the 1939 portion of the high school building will not be demolished in the construction process, calling it “beautiful,” “iconic,” and “worth saving.”

The proposed plans for Mildred L. Day would require demolishing the back of the school — about 25,000 square feet.

Approximately 30,000 square feet would then be added onto the remaining 13,000 square feet of building, about 43,000 square feet in total. The fact that the structure of the school is not sound — the back half to be demolished was constructed on soft clay and part of the building has sunk about half an inch for the last 34 years — is a major concern among teachers and residents, alike. Total cost for construction is about $11 million.

Approximately 7,000 square feet of Consolidated School is set to be demolished, and an additional 20,000 square feet will be constructed on to the remaining 25,000 square feet. The total cost is nearly $10 million.

Renovations and reconstruction being proposed at Kennebunk High School are the most expensive of the three, topping out at $54 million.

Construction at Kennebunk High School would include a reconfiguration of the athletic fields to best fit a new football stadium, as well as a new track and tennis courts and additional parking.

A new, modernized library would be built at the high school, along with a new cafeteria and a new gymnasium.

The second-floor classrooms would be reconfigured in a U-shape and cater to 700 students. The newly constructed common spaces on campus would cater to approximately 750 students.

A new performing arts center will also be constructed at the high school. Throughout the proposal process, two sets of plans have been presented: the Kennebunk High School Center for Visual and Performing Arts and the Southern Maine Center for Visual and Performing Arts.

The first would cost $8 million, and the latter is estimated to cost $20 million and would need to be privately funded by donations.

“I want it to be clear that what we are discussing is the high school proper and the high school version of the arts building,” Dolloff said.

Even if the funds are raised to construct the Southern Maine Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, said Dolloff, “the school board will still be going back out to referendum again to seek approval for that.”

At the end of the brief recap, board member Diane Robbins said, “What impact is this going to have on the overall budget? Part of the issue that some people are having is the overall cost. I’ve an issue with the overall cost. I’ve an issue that some parts are too big.”

“These new standards, as nice as they are, are going to put a strain on the overall budget — that’s just a fact,” Robbins said. “What will this do in five years when the schools have been done and they’re all up and going? I don’t want to have to cut a teacher’s salary,” Robbins said in reference to operating costs of the new facilities.

Robbins and Susan Sinnott Curran dissented the motion to approve the proposed building projects, to take them to a referendum vote and for total costs not exceed $74,830,711.

Said Dolloff, “This amount considers revolving renovation funds. Harriman believes they have found additional savings somewhere in the $200,000 range.”

Possible dates for a referendum vote were then discussed, as many in the audience felt strongly about the matter.

The months discussed for the referendum were November, January, March and June. Board member Maureen King made a motion that the vote be Jan. 21.

The floor was then opened for discussion.

Kennebunk resident Ed Karytko recalled how recently he was drinking a cup of tea and the words of wisdom on the tea bag’s tag struck him.

“‘We have the biggest standard of living in the world — too bad we can’t afford it.’ That’s how I feel about this proposal.” He then asked the board, “Why Jan. 21?”

“The longer we wait, the more expensive this program will become,” board member King said of rising interest rates. “We don’t want to bid at an awkward time for construction. The longer we push this back, the longer it’s going to take us,” she said.

“Maureen, I think if there was such a great concern to get the vote that quickly, I’m sure you could’ve gotten it two months earlier to get the November referendum,” Karytko said.

If the board can’t facilitate a time to vote when the maximum people are able to vote, “you aren’t doing what’s best for the community,” Karytko said. “The way it looks to me is that you’re trying to bypass the community.”

Al Searles, chairman of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, addressed the board on behalf of the selectmen.

“Voter apathy has gotten to a level that disgusts me,” he said. “I think it is extremely important that we have the largest number of voters come out. I urge you to reconsider a June or November vote. To get the extra voters out, I think it’s worth the wait,” Searles said.

Kennebunk resident Mary Couming referenced absentee ballot voting and how simple it is.

“If people want to vote, they’ll vote, if they don’t want to vote, they won’t — it doesn’t matter the time of year.”

But Arundel Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault said sometimes it isn’t always about interest.

“It’s nice to sit there and say it’s up to the person to be informed, but everyone leads busy lives,” Boissonneault said. “The perception that you’re trying to push this through is not a good perception.”

“It’s not just about interest, it’s about the knowledge as well,” Boissonneault said.

As a final argument, just before the referendum date was set for Jan. 21, Robbins said to the board, “We need to have this vote at a time when we don’t have to worry about snowstorms or absentee ballots. I urge that we listen to the people who put us here.”

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