RSU 13 Superintendent unveils plan to move school district forwardGilford Butler, Lura Libby, McLain recommended for closure; partnership with Siemens Energy to improve, modernize buildings
In a packed Regional School Unit 13 School Board meeting punctuated here and there by applause, Superintendent John McDonald unveiled a plan Oct. 1 to move the district forward that included some of the expected recommendations for school closures and consolidations within the district and a plan for a partnership with Siemens energy aimed at improving the district’s buildings.
Buildings recommended for closure were Gilford Butler, Lura Libby and McLain School, which serves as the central office for the district.
The plan also includes renovating Oceanside High School East in Rockland to serve grades 9 through 12, a change from recent years when ninth- graders have attended Oceanside West in Thomaston (the former Georges Valley High School building). In addition, the plan calls for a regional middle school at the Oceanside West building, serving grades six through eight.
“We can do this,” McDonald said to the board. “We need to have some courage, we need to have some fortitude, we need to have some vision, and we can have the schools of our future. We can have great schools. We can have wonderful learning environments for our students, and we can afford it, and we don’t have to turn the costs to the taxpayers. This is a project and proposal that can last for 20 years; that you’re not going to have to worry about boilers and buildings and whether this has to close or that has to move. This is a project proposal that can have a lasting impact on the school system, and I hope you will seriously consider it.”
Other aspects of the proposal include:
- Remodeling and expanding Owls Head Central School to receive a pre-K to grade 5 student population with an expected enrollment of 206.
- Renovating South School and Rockland District Middle School to receive pre-K to grade 5 students with an enrollment of 363, and accommodate the school district central office.
- Renovating Cushing Community School for grades K through 5 with a population of 87 students.
- Renovating Thomaston GrammarSchool for pre-K through grade 5 with an enrollment of 210.
- The high school in Rockland would be expected to have 510 students and the middle school in Thomaston, 393.
McDonald said the plan calls for having a freshman academy at the consolidated high school to serve the needs of the ninth-graders, as well as a fishermen's academy and Restorative Justice.
McDonald explained that in summer 2014, he was tasked with creating a plan for “The Schools of Our Future.” The project started with information gathering through talks with staff and community stakeholders, research and surveys.
Goals for the project included creating a unified district curriculum in line with Proficiency Based Teaching and Learning and the district’s existing strategic plan, and to create efficiencies in terms of the buildings.
“We chose to partner with Siemens Energy to take a detailed look at our facilities,” the superintendent’s proposal states. “Since the late fall of 2014, Siemens has been conducting extensive analysis of all of our facilities; monitoring energy usage, studying our physical plants, lighting, heating, ventilation and the buildings themselves, to identify areas where we can make changes and save energy.”
The plan calls for capturing savings from energy efficiency improvements and using the money the district would be paying anyway for energy costs to improve the buildings.
Thomas Seekins of Siemens attended the meeting, along with an engineering team from the company, and he spoke to the plan, noting at the introduction that he went to Oceanside High School and UMaine himself.
He said the team conducted a thorough look for creative ways to save energy, adding, “It’s not just low-hanging fruit like lighting.”
He noted the district is spending $500,000-plus per year on energy. State statute allows the district to make an agreement with the company to make the improvements and pay for the improvements over the course of 20 years, using money that would have been spent on energy now saved through improved efficiency (See attached chart for information on how these projects work).
He said the schools need a lot of work in terms of energy efficiency and ventilation. The project could include replacing all of the schools’ windows, kitchen expansions, installation of proper kitchen equipment and boiler room improvements, he said.
He said there are two ways to pay for this kind of work. One is to put it out to the voters in a referendum for a bond, and the other is this creative plan, which he said uses existing infrastructure, existing utilities spending and existing operational budget.
“This is by far the most creative way to get visual, actual things done that people will see in the community,” he said. “…When you pull up to those schools, you’re going to be proud of those schools. You can’t do it another way more efficiently.
“Kudos to your administrative team for doing it the hard way,” Seekins said. “Because the easy way is to hire an engineering firm for easily three quarters of a million dollars for a project like this, to come up with a plan that fits the kids, and just ask for the money, and if it gets shot down (at the polls), you do what’s always been done, and that’s to not attack your strategic plan.”
The superintendent also proposed a timeline for implementation of the plan.
- Oct. 15: School Board workshop to discuss the plan
- Oct. 19 to 30: Community and school forums
- Nov. 5: Board action on adoption of proposal
- November 2015: Formation of school transition teams for planning
- Fall 2016: Implementation of school transitions.
- Summer and fall 2017: Implementation of office transitions