2013-12-27 / Front Page

School district responds to town mailing

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — School officials are scrambling to correct what they say is misinformation the town mailed to residents about the projected cost of the proposed school renovation project.

During a public forum at the last of three Regional School Unit 21 meetings held Dec. 16 at Consolidated School, Superintendent Andrew Dolloff addressed the information that was sent to Kennebunkport residents in a mailing.

Dolloff said two weeks ago, a letter composed by the town of Kennebunkport incorrectly stated the projected operating cost for the three schools after renovations are complete would increase by $413,000.

That figure is four times higher than the actual estimate of $106,000, Dolloff said.

The letter also stated that Kennebunkport residents’ taxes would remain the same over the 25-year life of the bond, which is also incorrect. The highest year of repayment over the life of a 25-year bond would be 2017, when a Kennebunkport resident would pay an additional $124.59 for every $100,000 of property value. After 2017, taxes will decrease by 2.3 percent every year. For example, in 2018, a Kennebunkport resident would be required to pay $121.13 per $100,000 of property value.

Members of the school board are making attempts to correct the misinformation. Bob Domine and Maureen King attended a meeting of the Kennebunkport Board of Selectmen last week, and a correction letter will also be mailed to Kennebunkport residents after Christmas, Dolloff said.

Consolidated, Kennebunk High School and Mildred L. Day School in Arundel are all part of a $75 million renovation project residents will vote on at a Jan. 21 referendum. Renovations being proposed at the high school and Mildred L. Day were discussed at earlier meetings.

The cost for the proposed renovation at Consolidated the least of the three, coming in at approximately $10 million. The School Street facility is currently 35,000 square feet and the annual operating cost is $77,000.

If the project is approved, Consolidated School, which was built in 1951 and first renovated in 1966, will be slightly more than 47,000 square feet. The annual operating cost is projected to be $93,000, but despite the hike, Dolloff said, the improvements would lower the cost per square foot. The operating cost per square foot is $2.24, but after renovations are complete, the cost per square foot is projected to be $1.96.

Dan Cecil, the project’s architect, said building a new school was considered by combining Mildred L. Day School and Consolidated School. “It would cost well over $6 million more to build an all-new structure than to save a substantial part of the existing building,” Cecil said in reference to the portion of Consolidated being saved.

“You’re saving a huge amount of money by saving the parts of the building that are worth saving but need upgrading.”

A question posed by Coby Smith of Kennebunkport highlighted a potential consequence of the renovation if it is approved by voters.

“With an investment like this, would there be a sacrifice later on, when money could be allocated to keeping up that stellar academic reputation (of the district), like bringing in another language teacher.” Smith asked. “Do we anticipate, in the next three to five years, a real resistance in the future with trying to add things like that that are really needed to sort of keep up that academic reputation you have out there?”

“Absolutely there are going to be continuing challenges, and they become more significant each year,” Dolloff said. “And so when you add the tax burden to the taxpayers, yes there will be significant challenges to maintain the programming that we have. I don’t think the board was short-sighted in their discussions around that.

“They know it’s going to be a challenge. I think, though, the needs of these three facilities that we’re talking about have pushed us to the point where these projects need to be done.”

“That’s exactly right,” said school board Chairman Kevin Knight. “This isn’t coming to the voters on a half year’s thought. Since the RSU was formed, one of the very first things we did was engage in a study of our facilities to make sure we understood the assets that we had and their usefulness in an academic setting. Through that process and through putting together our strategic plan, we came to the realization that these three buildings, in particular, really need to be made more appropriate and modernized,” Knight said.

Kennebunk resident Pam Turk said most people she has spoken to were not informed and have not attended any of the public forums, “but yet they’re going to vote no, because they don’t want their taxes to go up.”

“I’m quite surprised with what seems to be the bond issue with many citizens in the town,” Turk said. “I’m 69, myself . . . I don’t work anymore, I’m on a fixed income. I don’t want my taxes to go up . . . I think my taxes are going to go up like $130 a year, does that sound reasonable?”

“I can’t believe anybody who has walked into these schools, who has walked into the basement at Kennebunk High School and who has been to Mildred L. Day School, can, on good conscience, vote no,” Turk said. “It’s not a matter of whether we’re going to do it or not. To me, it’s a matter of when we’re going to do it . . . I can’t believe that these schools have been left in the condition they’re in.”

“There seems to be this general opinion that this school board is out to get us, somehow. I mean, you guys are real subversive,” Turk said, facetiously. “I guess because I can’t believe what’s written in some of these letters I’m reading.”

Dolloff agreed with Turk and said, “There needs to be a realization that these projects will have to be done at some point.” The renovation will be voted on at a later date if it does not pass in January, Dolloff said, “and it will be more expensive.”

After the meeting, when asked for an educated guess on whether he thinks voters will approve the project, Dolloff said, “I can’t predict anything other than I think it’s going to be close.”

“We’re obviously very hopeful. I think the thing I’m most hopeful about, aside from it passing, is that people vote with the facts,” Dolloff said. “So it was bothersome to me that one of our towns was presented with information that was not factual,” he said in reference to the incorrect statistics mailed to Kennebunkport residents. “What’s most important here is that the voters have the facts and that they cast their ballot based on the facts and how those facts impact them.”

For more information on the renovation project, visit www.rsu21.net.

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