Board calls for further review of high school and middle school construction plans

More expensive options are back on the table
By Susan Mustapich | Oct 09, 2016
Photo by: Susan Mustapich

Rockland — The majority of members on the RSU 13 Board of Directors choose not to vote on the less-expensive options to expand cafeterias at Oceanside High School and Middle School as well as to add a wing of classrooms to the middle school.

Board members tabled the decision to vote on a $4.15 million project at Oceanside Middle School and a $2.9 million project at Oceanside High School. The more expensive plans, as well as the option of picking and choosing items from the menus of both plans, will be discussed at an Oct. 20 board workshop at 6:30 pm. If the board agrees to approve any construction and renovation projects, voter approval will be required.

Oct. 6, the expansion of Owls Head Central School into a kindergarten-through-grade-five building was also featured. Concept drawings for a renovation to enlarge the school, as well as a new school building, were presented. These plans will be discussed at a community meeting Oct. 12 at Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston. In June, the proposal to close Gilford Butler and expand the elementary school building in Owls Head was discussed at a community meeting at the Owls Head Central School.

At Oceanside High School, the $2.9 million plan includes a 1,615-square-foot addition to the cafeteria, renovation to the existing 1,620-square-foot kitchen and to the 1,520-square-foot cafeteria. Additional renovations include improvements to the sprinkler system and bathrooms.

The more expensive project for Oceanside High School  -- at a projected cost of $9 million -- proposes a new, 4,400-square-foot cafeteria and kitchen at $888,000, an elevator and corridor access to the lower level at $176,000, a $1.7 million renovation of classrooms, renovating existing administration offices into additional classrooms, and $1.4 million in renovations to the lower level locker rooms, fitness rooms and other areas.

At Oceanside Middle School, the $4.15 million plan adds 4,300 square feet, comprising four classrooms and a resource room, to the existing west classroom wing. The plan also includes renovating the present 2,130-square-foot west classroom wing. New construction will add 3,520 square feet to the cafeteria. The existing kitchen and 1,229-square-foot cafeteria would be renovated. New kitchen equipment costing $280,000 is part of the plan.

The more expensive option  for Oceanside Middle School -- at $7.48 million -- adds $572,400 for a new bus garage and industrial arts classrooms, and $1.9 million for site development for the new bus garage, parking and dropoff loop improvements.

Construction and renovation at Oceanside Middle School is intended to support the addition of the sixth-grade class by the 2017-18 school year, according to RSU 13 Finance and Facility Chairman Nancy Jeffers. Currently the sixth grade starts the day with academic classes at the South School campus in Rockland, and at midday is bused to Oceanside Middle School for art and physical education classes.

Board member Christine Curtis, of South Thomaston, was the only member against tabling a vote on the less- expensive building plans. She explained that her support of the less-expensive option for the middle school was a compromise. "I had reservations about the extra classrooms, but compromised because the superintendent said we need them," she said.

Oceanside Middle School Principal Bill Gifford passionately defended the need for more classroom space. Gifford said school enrollments soared in August to more than 400 students, and that in the afternoons students are crowded into rooms.

"We knew coming into that school we were going to do this for one year and that the board was going to stand behind us," he said.

Board Chairman Steve Roberts,of Rockland, led the call to revisit both the scaled-back and more-expansive plans for the high school and middle school, as well as choosing specific projects from each. He questioned whether the Finance and Facility committee members were aware "that there were more options," than just choosing one plan or the other.

Roberts said of the $4.15 million option for the middle school, "It doesn't meet the needs we have at the middle school." He noted that the size of the school is far from what is recommended. Roberts described driving around the district and seeing aging school buildings. He talked about the need for long-term solutions, instead of "going at a major construction program piecemeal," and suggested the board take advantage of low bond costs.

Board member Don Robishaw of Rockland pointed out that estimates for reinforcing the roofs for snow loads were missing from all of the estimates, and that work needed to be done.

Board member Ron Gamage of Thomaston said the board should be mindful of the taxpayers in the district. Referring to Roberts' comment about driving around the district and looking at the older school buildings, Gamage said that on the same drive around the district, you see the homes of "those who pay the bills, but can't afford to fix up their houses."

RSU Business Manager Pete Orne talked about how the district is transforming a routine of unplanned expenses on facilities into long-term, predictable and planned spending. He and Superintendent John McDonald will incorporate any planned debt load into the budget, he said, and will not be adding debt payments "on top of the budget."

Orne said the district can accommodate a higher debt load by reducing overspending on repairs. As an example, he compared predictable payments for the new, high-efficiency propane boilers installed in most of the school buildings this summer, which are paid for over 20 years through a lease-purchase agreement with Siemens Energy, to the unplanned costs of dealing with old boilers that were breaking down.

New construction, renovation, energy-efficiency and ventilation upgrades are part of a district-wide plan to implement long-lasting improvements in a core of school buildings, while closing other school buildings. The district-wide plan to improve RSU 13's aging school infrastructure, called Schools of our Future, was announced in Oct. 2015 by McDonald. The plan seeks to finance the building improvements through bonds and lease-purchase agreements, to spread the payments over many years, to use savings from energy efficiency and building closures to pay for the improvements, and to avoid emergency repairs. Public approval, usually in the form of a ballot vote, is required for bond financing and closing schools.

Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 10, 2016 18:12

I remember going to High School in Boston . The building was brick. I just read that the building was finally demolished and the students moved to a new building. The School was at this point 100 years old. Perhaps if Rockland would build the schools of brick they would not have consistent problems to deal with, such as repair or rebuild constantly. Just asking!

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