Camden-Rockport Middle School revisited

By Maria Libby | Mar 10, 2016

As most readers are probably aware, the School Administrative District 28 Board went to referendum in February 2015 for a vote on a new middle school that was defeated by voters.

Since that time, the district has engaged with many community members, both during focus group sessions and during “listening tours,” in order to understand why the project was defeated. We have learned a lot over the past year. We will use what we have learned to inform a new building project with an expected vote in November 2017.

After much deliberation and consideration, the School Board decided to go back to vote in two years because the middle school needs serious attention that cannot be set aside. The main dilemma is this: the school facility is old and has quite a few major capital improvement projects (e.g. overhauling the ventilation system, repointing all the bricks in the MET building, replacing the roof) that need to happen. The work that we know needs to be done amounts to about $10 million over the next decade. The choice before us is to sink $10 million into that facility over the next decade or to spend $17 to $25 million to renovate or rebuild it.

Even if $10 million is poured into the existing facility, we will be left with problems. There are safety and functionality issues that won’t be addressed by fixing the existing structure. As superintendent, I do not think is wise to spend that kind of money on an old building that will continue to give us problems down the road. I think it is a more financially prudent decision to either significantly renovate or replace the facility at this point. Biting the bullet now will ensure we meet our long-term needs in the least cost manner. The first building committee meeting for “Round Two” of this project will be held this week. This committee will be tasked with making a concept recommendation to the board that will eventually go to voters in November 2017. This will come after much listening, research, gathering of input and feedback, and analyzing and evaluating various options.

I recognize that no matter how we slice it, the cost burden of the middle school falls squarely on taxpayer shoulders. This is true whether we only do the necessary capital maintenance projects in the existing facility or build a new school or anything in between. As a relatively wealthy district in a state that hasn’t even been funding new schools for several years despite a list of approximately fifty schools already, we know we’d never be near the top of any list for state funding. We can’t even get on that list. We are on our own to address our facility needs.

Because we are sensitive to what we will be asking of taxpayers come November 2017, we worked hard this year and will continue to work hard to keep our budget as low as we can while maintaining quality programming. This year, the CSD expects to come with a school budget decrease to taxpayers. The CSD budget will see an overall decrease of more than 4 percent, but the SAD budget will see a very slight increase (less than 1 percent). In addition, we are trying to “bank” some money that has been allocated for capital improvements in recent budgets. We are budgeting what we need, but waiting on the projects to determine what happens with the vote in 2017. If it passes, we will use the deferred money to help offset the some of the cost. If it does not, we will have a significant sum to make immediate capital improvements. We are also exploring other ideas to mitigate the impact to taxpayers.

Despite the cost, we know the benefit to the community will be tremendous. A great school, inside and out, is a centerpiece of a healthy, thriving community. The local economy is intimately connected to the school system. Great schools attract young families to town who become part of the local workforce and contribute to the local economy. That age diversity is a critical need for our community as it is for so many others in Maine. A healthy community also attracts retirees. Though they may not have children in school, retired people want a thriving, robust town as much as anyone does. It is part of what attracts retirees to a community. We are all in this together; it is an investment that pays dividends to the community in countless ways.

We have beautiful schools that represent the bookends of our education system, namely Camden-Rockport Elementary School and Camden Hills Regional High School. Unfortunately, people drive by or walk into our “middle” building and are surprised and disappointed at what they see. Although many people have done some wonderful cosmetic upgrades inside the building, the structure is old and failing. Granted, it is the classroom instruction that is the most important aspect of a child’s education, and a facility won’t make or break an education. However, in our case, we are going to need to spend significant money on the facility one way or another, so we might as well do it right and think long-term.

We are fortunate to have the current site in a downtown area that is nearly perfect for our needs. The site contributes to the vibrancy of the town and it enables students to walk to school, to walk to the Teen Center, downtown, or to the YMCA afterward. That is a treasure in and of itself. I have no doubt a revitalized middle school facility would not only serve our middle school students well, but it would serve the entire town well. There will be numerous spaces available for public use, such as the library, cafeteria, gym, and small theater. Its location makes it a great space to collaborate with local conferences and performances and meeting needs. Together, I am hoping we can make this a reality.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Mar 16, 2016 22:08

The "thank you" had no sarcasm intended or meant



Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Mar 16, 2016 22:07

Thank you



Posted by: Central Office | Mar 15, 2016 16:11

I have a correction to make in my previous comment. The CSD budget will see an overall decrease of more than 4%, but the SAD budget will see a very slight increase (less than 1%). Also, the renovated CRES (Montessori) debt expires in FY2020, the new CRES building expires in FY2032, and the HS debt expires in FY2022. With a November 2017 vote, we expect there to be 4 years of overlap in payments between the middle school project and the high school. We will hope to mitigate some of that overlapping impact with money that is accruing for capital improvement projects (but we are waiting until the outcome of the next vote) and funds from a potential capital campaign. We understand that the overlapping years will be difficult, so will work hard to mitigate it.



Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Mar 12, 2016 07:40

Maria

It is obvious from the article that this is the start of a public relations effort to get approval for the new school.  It is very easy to tell us when the current bonds will be retired and when the impact of a new bond would be felt by the taxpayer.  Please provide the information.



Posted by: JEROD CRONKITE | Mar 12, 2016 07:35

Maria,

An understanding of the bond issuance payments and how that impacts taxes in each impacted town would be very helpful to make the decision.  When will rockport be done with the debt payments on the current school systems?  I think everyone is open to the idea but we need a balanced analysis on the impact.  One of the arguments last time was that rates are really low and we need to hurry up to lock in.  Well, rates could be low for even longer as the global forces impact us at home.  Good news for your campaign.



Posted by: Central Office | Mar 11, 2016 18:00

Dale, I understand this concern and we will be transparent about this analysis, which we have not updated yet. We plan to do everything we can to mitigate the impact of the overlap, including a capital campaign, the current capital reserve fund, and coming in with little to no budget increases in the next few years. This year we are coming with slightly more than a 4% decrease to taxpayers in the MSAD budget.



Posted by: Karen A Grove | Mar 11, 2016 14:25

Also, when you factor in the Region 8 school will be coming to the taxpayers for a new 25 million dollar new school the future tax burden on both young families and retirees seems a bit overwhelming.



Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Mar 11, 2016 09:47

Maria

I am still concerned about taxpayers being burdened with paying for three schools at the same time.  Please compare when the impact of a new middle school on taxpayers begins and when the bond(s) on the other schools expire.



If you wish to comment, please login.