Middle school funding passes by large margin

By Louis Bettcher | Jun 11, 2018
Photo by: Louis Bettcher Members of the public listen to a presentation by Superintendent Maria Libby, far left, in Camden on June 11.
June 11 middle school meeting
SAD 28 Superintendent Maria Libby addresses the public at a June 11 meeting in the gymnasium of the Camden Rockport Middle School. (Video by: Louis Bettcher)

Camden — In a vote of 409 to 159, residents of Camden and Rockport approved a funding strategy proposed by district officials which will allocate funds to proceed with the construction of a new Camden-Rockport Middle School.

The June 11 meeting was held in the gymnasium of the current middle school facility on Knowlton Street in Camden, and set to begin at 6 p.m., but as hundreds of citizens trailed through the buildings entrance and registered to vote, the meeting began nearly an hour later.

The gym was packed to capacity as the meeting commenced, and once the bleachers and rows of seats on the gym floor were filled, additional chairs were arranged in row after row by janitors and volunteers. The table at which the School Board was seated needed to be moved further back to accommodate the throngs in attendance, and additional ballot boxes were placed throughout the room in anticipation of the high voter turnout, and subsequent counting of ballots.

The low bid for the construction of the school on Knowlton Street, not including furnishings and other soft costs, is $28.1 million. Submitted by Ledgewood Construction, the bid is approximately $5.8 million over the anticipated cost of the project; the maximum the district had expected to spend was $22.3 million.

Since receiving the news that construction would be significantly higher in cost, the district has been working with architects and Ledgewood to "value engineer" or cut costs in order to get the school built. The goal is to have the school ready for operation in September of 2020.

The SAD 28 School Board voted unanimously to hold the meeting on May 30, and the meeting's warrant asked members of the public to appropriate funds to the project from three different sources: $400,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund balances; transfer an additional $1.48 million to the Capital Reserve; and authorize the School Board to use bond premiums in the amount of up to $3 million.

The $1.48 million to be transferred to the Capital Reserve is a combination of $60,500 in insurance proceeds from damage done to the gymnasium floor; $100,000 from allocated balances; and $1.3 million, which represents deferring the first payment of principal on the $25.2 million bond, authorized for the project in 2017. Citizens voted in favor of deferring the $1.3 payment and placing it in a reserve account on May 22.

The June 11 meeting began with a presentation by Superintendent Maria Libby, who outlined the proposed funding strategy and the path forward, should the warrant article have been voted down.

"Waiting won't help us. To go in another direction would require another significant investment in design fees, DEP permit fees, legal fees, etc. Remember we have spent over one million dollars to get to where we are right now. Time equals money right now in construction costs and interest rates.

If the community chooses not to approve the plan being presented tonight to fund the middle school project, the community will most certainly end up spending a great deal more at some point in the future. We have been analyzing this project for years, and most people in our towns agreed that the best path forward was a new school," said Libby.

Rockport resident Bob Duke was elected as moderator for the meeting, and following Libby's presentation, he read the article in its entirety. A motion was moved and seconded by members of the audience to discuss the article, and a period of public comment followed.

Members of the public asked the School Board, Libby and district officials a number of questions which ranged from renewable energy concerns to school security personnel and topics which were in some cases deemed irrelevant to the article at hand. Another member of the audience asked the cost differential between a "patching" option the district once considered, which would make a series of repairs to the existing structure, to keep it standing and operating for the time being.

"There seems to be some confusion among people I've talked to about what will happen if the vote ends up as a 'no' tonight. Could you clarify that please," asked Rockport resident Robin Spear.

"I can tell you that our most likely scenario is that we would do the patching option. To go back and start over with this process would cost a lot of money... we've already spent a million dollars. We'd have to toss that aside, throw it in the trash and spend a million more to get us to the exact same place with a different building or a different design," said Libby, adding that in the time needed to form a new plan or option, interest and construction rates will have risen.

"As you probably know, this has been a pretty tough battle for us. It doesn't seem worth the administrators' time to just battle for years, trying to get a building built if the town doesn't want it built....I think it's time for us to either move on, or just accept the will of the voters...and at some future time people will try this again, and maybe they'll be more successful," said Libby.

Following additional questions about a 'no' vote, and the enrollment rate at the school (approximately 380), Camden resident Nancy Hughes spoke to move the warrant article to vote. Her motion received applause from some of the audience, and without further objection, citizens lined-up at the various ballot boxes.

By the time the ballots had been tallied, and the funding for the new middle school was authorized by the public, Libby and the School Board members were already in the school's cafeteria, attending an SAD 28 meeting, which had been scheduled for 7 p.m.

The official voting results from the June 11 meeting at the Camden-Rockport Middle School. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
District officials and members of the SAD 28 School Board on June 11. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
Residents of Camden and Rockport cast their ballots at the June 11 meeting. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
A line forms outside the Camden-Rockport Middle School gymnasium before the meeting on June 11. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
School Superintendent Maria Libby speaks at the June 11 meeting. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
Recent architect renderings of the new Camden-Rockport Middle School on Knowlton Street, prepared by Oak Point Associates. (Source: Oak Point Associates)
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