2014-03-07 / Community

Board takes first steps toward new building plan

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Compromises were made and ties were severed on Monday night at what was the most productive school board meeting since the Jan. 21 referendum.

The RSU 21 board of directors made three notable decisions Monday: unanimously deciding to keep an elementary school open in each of the three communities in the district; voted not to hire a firm to conduct surveys in each town; and set the starting estimate for renovating Mildred L. Day School, Consolidated School and Kennebunk High School at $55 million — $20 million less than the initial proposal.

“OK, so we’re finally discussing stuff at a board meeting. I think this is positive,” said board member Art LeBlanc at the March 3 meeting that spanned four hours.

Board member Tim Hussey initially asked to set a clear scope of the three projects to make it easier for the facilities and finance committees to address issues as they move forward.

Later, board member Frank Drigotas, reading from his iPhone, proposed the first revision: that the cost of the three combined building projects not exceed $52 million. The board voted down that motion, 7-5. Drigotas also suggested that the board’s proposed renovation project sever its ties with the Southern Maine Visual and Performing Arts Center.

Voters overwhelmingly disapproved of the center in the Jan. 21 referendum and many, including board members, believe the privately funded project played a significant role in why residents voted down the $75 million renovation project.

The cost to build the center would have been funded entirely by $20 million in private donations, and would not affect the tax rate.

In the last year of fundraising, Hussey said, there have been only three who have come forward with major donations, and he is one of them. “I think it’s time,” Hussey said in reference to cutting ties to the center.

Said board member Bob Domine, “I don’t understand the general unwillingness of a community to accept an idea that could A. be extraordinary and B. help them financially.”

Drigotas amended his motion to include stipulations that the visual and performing arts center be separated from the renovation project.

Reconfigured, the board approved 7-5 a motion for the renovation funds not to exceed $42 million at Kennebunk High School, not to exceed $4 million at Consolidated School, and not to exceed $9 million at Mildred L. Day School ($55 million).

The figures are not binding.

“These figures will not go to the voters,” Hussey said.

The numbers will be a parameter for the facilities and finance committees, so they can separate essentials and non-essentials and come up with a menu of items, Hussey said.

“The committees can essentially come back and say, ‘This is what you’d get for this amount of money,’” said board member Susan Sinnot-Curran.

As a way of stamping out the swelling controversy surrounding closing either Kennebunkport’s Consolidated School or Arundel’s Mildred L. Day School, the board voted unanimously to affirm the district’s commitment to keeping a school open in each town.

“I don’t think there’s any significant interest in closing, and doing so could cause discord and strife and potentially affect our progress as a whole,” said Vice Chairman Brad Huot.

Said Hussey at the facilities meeting on Friday, Feb. 28: “There have been some suggestions that we should close (Mildred L. Day) and Consolidated and build a brand new school somewhere in either town or near the border ... It is significantly more expensive. So, for those people looking for a way to bring our total down, that’s going the wrong way. In 2010 a new elementary school that would house those students was estimated to be $23 million.”

Board member Art LeBlanc, after listing every possible elementary school configuration, plus the cost of necessary district-wide renovations, reported that the range of the district’s cost with each of the scenarios is $371 million to $391 million — a relatively small margin.

“What we need to do is what’s best over the time of the bond,” LeBlanc said.

Board members were in agreement that an aggressive timeline in forming a new renovation proposal is necessary.

When asked about a referendum date, Hussey said that June is tight, but recognizes that a new proposal needs to be “as soon as possible ... defi- nitely by the end of the summer.”

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