Rockland board OKs solar panels, but amphitheater, fence face opposition

By Stephen Betts | Jul 10, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Jim Leach plays an audio recording at the Rocklnad Planning Board meeting Tuesday evening, July 9, of noise from the mechanical systems on the roof of the new Midcoast School of Technology.

Rockland — The Rockland Planning Board approved Tuesday night, July 9, the placement of solar panels on the new Midcoast School of Technology, but put the brakes on plans for an amphitheater and fencing.

The postponement of action on the amphitheater and fencing came after residents voiced concerns.

Efficiency Maine is providing significant rebates to the school because it is so energy-efficient. The school will use geothermal heating in the building. Executive Director Elizabeth Fisher said geothermal increases the amount of electricity used, because of the heat pumps operating. The solar panels will reduce the amount of electricity to be purchased.

The panels will cost $575,000.

The Planning Board agreed to hold off on the amphitheater and fence after residents spoke out during the meeting.

Louise MacLellan-Ruf said the fence would cut off public access along the harbor, which did not make sense.

"Taxpayers have given you the opportunity to be on the waterfront," she said, asking why the vocational school would cut off access to what is both the beginning and end of the Rockland Harbor Trail.

She said a fence was both aesthetically not pleasing and also disheartening.

Doug Curtis, a member of the Regional School Unit 13 Board, said he was speaking for himself. He commented that if there was money left over upon completion of the school, it should be returned to taxpayers, not spent on unnecessary things such as a fence.

"I'm adamant we don't need a fence," Curtis said.

The fence is proposed to be a 6-foot high, vinyl chain-link fence that will be on the north, east and south sides of the property.

Gil Merriam, a neighbor of the school, said he did not see the need for an amphitheater just because there was money unspent.

Jim Leach, another neighbor, said the noise from the mechanical systems on the roof sounded like a 747 jet airliner on tarmac. He played an audio recording from his cellphone that he said was taken 600 feet from the school for the Planning Board.

Planning Board members asked whether they should proceed with a review of the application for the changes to the school project if the school was not compliant with the noise standards.

Fisher said there was a lot of misinformation being shared and recommended that board members visit the site to see and listen for themselves. The school executive director said the school plans to meet all standards for noise and lighting.

The board tentatively agreed to meet on Aug. 20 at the school.

The solar panels are to be installed on the roof before the start of school.

The amphitheater would be carved out of the slope in back of the new building. It would have outdoor seating, but would not be enclosed or covered.

The site offers a view of the Owls Head side of Rockland Harbor. There would be seating for events for students, or the space could be used by the community, Fisher said.

Residents from Waldoboro to Islesboro overwhelmingly approved a $25 million bond referendum in November 2016 for the new school. Ground was broken for the project in October 2017.

The building is two stories with a total of 90,000 square feet.

Comments (10)
Posted by: T A Schwab | Jul 12, 2019 09:20

Ms. Fisher Thank you for responding

As a former educator I completely see the need for the Tech school. Personally not on waterfront property(tax revenue) but that’s water under the bridge

My concern has been how this new buildings lights and sound(from roof) will impact the surrounding neighborhood.

As for the noise and dust we have been dealing with we appreciate your apology it has been a rough couple of years and we are weary of the constant noise of no escape. We are tired and cranky.

Also once school starts up it would nice if you and the police could have a presence at the times of day when the students come and go, with their LOUD trucks peeling out of the school.

We will wait to see once school is open how the night time lights impact our night sky and the noise coming from all the machinery on the roof.

I’m sad my tiny water view from my kitchen window will be gone because of the solar panels. I realize it saves money and that’s important.

Posted by: Doug Curtis Jr. | Jul 11, 2019 21:39


Thank you for your point of view. I personally believe vocational education is very important and much needed in our society. Yes I do have some criticism of what programs are offered at the school or perhaps not offered. There are no electrical or plumbing programs and those are desperately needed in society. I do not accept at face value there is no interest in these programs. Personally even if interest was low a good teacher could build a great program.  To the best of my knowledge,  it literally took an act of the US Congress to make the original building into a school as our First District Congressman and Rockland native Dave Emery got the funding to do it. The building was bought with taxpayer money no matter how you slice it.  The same could be said for the solar panels. No one spoke that night on the years required to save $575,000 plus interest. While this might be a great idea in the long run, the tiles will have to be maintained at some cost and it all adds to the taxpayer bottom line. As for the fence, it sends the wrong message in every way as our former mayor pointed out. Unfortunately in this day and age, if a person is hell bent on hurting someone a six foot fence with holes in it are not going to stop them.  The mentality has to shift. You are commended if the project comes in under budget. I don't care if every taxpayer gets one dollar back. That is the correct thing to do.  A person who grew up in that neighborhood before it became a school, it was used by neighborhood kids to go ice skating, play baseball and I attacked that bluff many times playing Marines. The point is public access is important and certainly can be accommodated. I think some of the people who spoke out about the lighting were concerned about lighting around the amphitheatre which is a legitimate concern. If anything if it is built, the public should use it.

Let's highlight the good things that you and your staff and students are doing.  Your board should not ignore the taxpayer or the needs of our community and there definitely is a middle ground.

Posted by: Mid-Coast School of Technology | Jul 11, 2019 15:56

I do not usually respond to these comments but in this case I feel I must. Speakers at the public hearing complained about the exterior lighting of the school. I was quite bewildered. Please note: there are currently NO lights installed on the exterior of the building. Those that are designed for install are to be down lighting in accordance with code. There were also comments about noise. The architect, civil engineer and I walked the property following the meeting. The only discernible noise was the CMP transformer hum and road noise. Whatever noise is being recorded is not coming from the school. We assured the code enforcement officer and the planning board we are fully willing to undergo an independent sound audit and have every intention of remaining in compliance with all local codes. Then there is the assertion that the school property is part of the Harbor Trail. This is also erroneous. There is not now, nor has there ever been a public right of way on this property. Should anyone want to discuss this with the school they are welcome to do so but our first priority is always student safety. We have been advised to not allow dogs onto the property unless they are service dogs. Any discussions will start and end with student safety. In this day and age that should be self evident. Keeping schools safe today is a very different subject than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Discussions we have with public safety officials concur that we must take all reasonable steps to ensure school safety and security. Nor was the property given to the school from the town. The 19 towns that comprise the Region bought a boat repair shop in the 1970s and used it for a school from then until now. The engineering studies done showed it was inappropriate for student use. For student safety the building had to be replaced. With strong support from the public in the election of 2016 a building project commenced.

The school is supported by 19 towns who voted overwhelmingly (more than 2 to 1) to build a new Career and Technical School. As far as giving money back to the tax payers, installing the solar system will decrease our energy costs for at least 50 years. That will be the savings to the community and to the environment. The hundred thousand that was discussed for the grounds and landscaping spread out over every household in Knox County would amount to, at best, a dollar or two per household. The current steep slope on the ocean side is not use-able. Putting in outdoor seating would enable many activities that would make use of the site. We will be bringing this proposal back with a more comprehensive plan for its use. The concerns that seemed to be voiced were inconsistent with the uses we envision.

The comments above also seem uninformed. We do in fact offer welding and we do not offer basket weaving. When all local industries are in need of skilled labor we have, through the public vote and overwhelming feedback from the majority, strong support for the work we do. Our administration is always willing to engage in discussion about ways to better serve our community. But complaints made that are inconsistent with fact do little or nothing to resolve anyone's concerns.

We do realize that the noise and mess of construction have been disruptive. And for that we sincerely apologize. We hope that by this fall we will be peacefully settled into the new school and continue to serve hundreds of high school and adult education students as we have for generations; providing skilled workers who pay taxes and otherwise support the local communities not just in Rockland but in all the towns we serve.

Posted by: Bill Packard | Jul 11, 2019 07:34

One  thing they could do with the extra money would be to fix the trench they dug across S Main St.  It doesn't show much concern for the travelling public to leave that cut like that for so long.

Posted by: James York | Jul 11, 2019 00:52

For the record Mr. Carroll,  you can find the programs listed on their website, and for good or bad, I see no quilting or basket weaving as you suggest. There is however, Welding, Machine Tools and General Construction.  Our community (Region 8) got behind the investment lets make sure it something we are proud of.

Posted by: T A Schwab | Jul 10, 2019 09:49

I had to be out of town last night or I would have been there.

Almost 2 years of constant noise noise noise 6 days a week from 6 to 6. It really gets to you after a while.We the neighbors have been waiting for the day when it’s over BUT now the thought of the 747 taking off on the roof for the rest of our lives, our tiny view now going to be blocked by solar panels.  So frustrating.

For the life of me I still don’t understand why the city and public approved this waterfront property to be used for a school for a second time. We need tax revenue badly. The tech school should be in a country setting with more land. Even tasteful condos paying taxes would have been better.

All water under the bridge now, the school needs to be a good neighbor to the people who have put up with this for 2 years!! I wonder about the lighting at night, and how it will change our night sky, the noise from the 747 on the roof, but also the students 3 times a day coming and going in huge trucks lots of noise and fishtailing. It’s a lot for the neighbors to bear. Please be aware you have neighbors who are trying to lead quiet lives, enjoying our homes and yards that we worked years to enjoy.

Posted by: James Bowers | Jul 10, 2019 08:28

Public access and no fence might be at least some kind of trade-off for the noise generated by the mechanical systems noise.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jul 10, 2019 08:12

Although a praise worthy concept, could someone site me an example of when politicians have given money back to taxpayers. Certainly their strong suit would be inventing new and creative ways to spend your money.  So much for the "Good neighbor policy".  Board members are you sure August 20th will give the school enough time to end the noise, clean the site and plant roses so the board can be dutifully impressed with the site ??  Plainly Director Fisher has misread the situation if she is planning to build fences and amphitheaters.  Perhaps they would create a more friendly enviroment by donating the unused funds to build a new treater at the Rockland public landing.  I would hope Mss. Fisher would spend more energy developing an educational program to encourage job development in the Mid-coast.  We could use electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, HVAC technicians.  My understanding is that the Vo-Tech offers NONE of these programs instead offers Quilting and basket weaving.

Posted by: Helen Plourd | Jul 10, 2019 07:43

Please listen to some of the imperative remarks, and think of the tax payers and neighbors. I think we should be more cognizant of the retired folks who have lived here all their lives, and assisted in making our community what it is today. You are forcing folks out of Rockland. I see no gray area here...why wouldn't one let the tax payers benefit?

Helen Plourd




Posted by: James Clinton Leach | Jul 10, 2019 06:20

Director Fisher is the one speaking mis information, one of her reason for a fence was to keep the students from walking off Campus and my favorite to stop the citizens from walking there dogs there and not picking up after them, the information spoken by the citizens was there personal experience and opinions having heard the noise ,seeing the  unsightly roof top daily, and blocking the Citizens from accessing this important part of the Harbor Trail, a few mention the school might grant an easement so the public could continue to enjoy this wonderful view from the Ocean side of the school...The Director had nothing to say...this isn’t a feather in your cap this school being built Director Fisher, it’s not yours school it belongs to all of us.....You are so reluctant to give back to the City of Rockland, to give the ones that have been impacted the most by this new want what you want...Return the money to the tax payers like Doug Curtis suggested, instead of dreaming up ways to spend our money....


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