2015-03-06 / Community

Board to send $56 million bond to voters

Debate swirls on closure of Sea Road School
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKS — The RSU 21 Board of Directors finalized its yearlong do-over of a school building renovation project Monday, voting 9-1 to cap spending at $56,497,038.

One year ago, voters killed a $76.8 million bond request designed to expand and upgrade Kennebunk High School, Kennebunkport Consolidated School and Arundel’s Mildred L. Day Elementary School.

Since then, school officials have lopped off more than $20 million, $40 million in savings when taking into account interest that would have been paid on the original request.

“The taxpayers spoke loud and clead last January [2014],” interim Superintendent Dr. Kevin Crowley said Tuesday. “Their feelings were that there were too many ‘wants’ in those projects, and they were probably right. They said the board needed to do a better job, and I think they’ve answered that call.”

Most of the reductions came from scaling back the rebuilds to a more utilitarian school use, essentially excising the original vision that would have seen the buildings double as community centers, Crowley said.

However, some of the reduction in the bond comes from the use of a $775,000 capital reserve fund.

In recent years, voters have agreed to roll up to 25 percent of RSU 21’s year-end budget surplus into the special capital reserve account. In recent meetings, the school board has voted unanimously to reserve $75,000 from that fund for any repairs needed to Fletcher Street, once the high school project is finished, and $250,000 to upgrade the high school track.

On Monday, the school board voted to put the final $450,000 in that fund toward the school renovation projects, to help reduce the borrowing need. The board voted March 2 to send the building bond request to voters in June.

The $450,000 appropriation will appear as a separate item on that warrant. The Fletcher Street and track appropriations will be put before voters at a later date, “when needed,” Crowley said.

At Monday’s meeting, only Kennebunk school director Lionel Menard voted against the “not to exceed” number that will be sent to voters.

Directors Mike Mosher of Kennebunk and Susan Sinnott Curran of Arundel were absent form the meeting, making the vote on the $56.5 million request 9-1.

Menard also was the lone vote in favor of his own amendment tying closure of the Sea Road School in Kennebunk to the borrowing request, an amendment criticized by Kennebunk Director Matthew Fadiman as coming, “not only at the eleventh hour, but at the eleventh hour and 59 minutes.”

Many on the school board seemed to agree, and voted against the amendment for that reason, although most who spoke agreed closing the Sea Road school needs to be a topic of future discussion for the board.

“It only seems odd that we would mix a school closure in with bond, which would lead me to not support it, although I absolutely agree it’s a perfectly fine idea (to close the Sea Road School), as far as I can tell,” Kennebunport Director Robert Domine said.

“When you talk about potentially closing a school, that’s an issue a lot of people are going to be very passionate about,” said board Chairman Maureen King, of Kennebunkport, suggesting that “confusing the issue” could kill the bond. Some school board members already have publicly expressed concern over which way the referendum will fall, given increasing school and municipal budgets.

King also said closing the school might not save as much as Menard, who cited declining enrollments districtwide, had supposed.

“Although we would be closing a building, we will still need all those teachers, because we will still have all those students. That is not going to change a whole lot,” she said.

But the final word seemed to fall to Kennebunkport Director Amy Johnson.

“I don’t want to hear from any of my children ever again that they have buckets in their classrooms, because the ceilings are leaking,” she said. “It’s time to vote.”

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