Support voiced for Rockland area school construction bond
Rockland — By the end of a Thursday night hearing, even a longtime critic of government spending voiced support for a $23.2 million borrowing package to finance construction in the Rockland area school district.
Fewer than 30 people turned out for the Feb. 16 public hearing held at Oceanside High School auditorium on the bond package that will go to a vote Feb. 28 at the polls throughout Regional School Unit 13.
Stephen Carroll of Rockland -- who has for years voiced criticism of school, municipal and county spending -- praised the district for the plan it has developed.
"I've studied this issue and commend the school board and finance department. This makes a lot of sense to reduce your building footprint," Carroll said.
The financing would pay for construction of a new school on the grounds of the Owls Head Central School to serve students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, add a classroom wing and renovate Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston, and an addition and extensive renovations to Oceanside High School in Rockland.
The vote is Feb. 28 with polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Rockland, Thomaston, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing. Absentee ballots are already available at the municipal offices.
RSU 13 Board member Thomas Peaco of Rockland said the construction package was a proactive move by the district.
"We're not saving money by not passing this. We risk spending more for rapidly aging buildings," Peaco said. "This is a wise thing to do."
Superintendent John McDonald said he plans on remaining in the district for a long time, "unless he hits a moose on the way home" and is confident in the financial projections that this will not be a shock to the budget.
Business Manager Peter Orne detailed the cost of the project and the savings from closing older buildings. In the end, the savings will offset the cost of the repayment of the borrowing for the construction projects, he said.
The Gilford Butler School would be offered to South Thomaston and the current Owls Head Central School would be demolished upon completion of the new elementary school. The district has already offered the McLain School to the city. The district will be moving out of the McLain School this summer.
Orne and McDonald pointed out that savings will come from less maintenance and reduced energy use, as well as greater efficiencies for staff. Currently, teachers in programs such as music and art must travel between schools. At the middle school, sixth-graders are driven to Thomaston each day for allied arts programs, such as music and industrial technology. That travel costs time and money, school officials said.
The package would also create a single regional middle school, administrators noted.
No opposition was voiced at the Thursday night public hearing. Three staff members, however, questioned whether the addition at the middle school in Thomaston would be large enough to accommodate staff and programs such as music and art.
The superintendent encouraged those teachers to serve on the building committee that is being formed to help shape the details of the building work.
The package of construction also includes the possibility of a bus garage on the grounds of the middle school. McDonald said, however, that the owner of the bus garage in Thomaston that the district leases has contacted the district and there have been talks about that property.
Orne acknowledged that the district is re-considering whether a bus garage at the middle school is the best location.