Rockland review of school fence ends with war of words

By Stephen Betts | Nov 20, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Midcoast School of Technology's attorney Adrianne Fouts, left; MCST Board Vice Chair Robert Duke; and MCST Business Manager Sherry Moody speak before the Rockland Planning Board on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Rockland — A marathon Rockland Planning Board meeting held Tuesday night to review a controversial plan for a fence and amphitheater at the Midcoast School of Technology ended with a sharp exchange of words.

The Planning Board voted unanimously after three hours of review at the Nov. 19 meeting to rule that the application by the technology school was incomplete.

"I'm disappointed. I want a better board," said MCST Board Vice Chair Robert Duke.

Planning Board Chair Erik Laustsen responded.

"This is Rockland, not Rockport. You don't have to keep looking down on us," Laustsen said.

Duke had made a similar criticism of the Planning Board during a MCST Board meeting last month.

While much of the discussion Tuesday night focused on the fence and amphitheater, also called an outdoor learning center, the Planning Board said that the school needed to provide a technical review of the rooftop heating, ventilation, and cooling system. This came after two neighbors to the school said Tuesday night that the noise problem has yet to be corrected.

The Planning Board also ruled that the application lacked items such as a scaled drawing, list of abutters, and some landscaping details.

Earlier in the lengthy meeting, Duke had sounded a more conciliatory tone.

"We're trying to work in good faith with the city. We don't want to be at loggerheads," Duke said.

Duke appeared at the meeting with the school's attorney Adrianne Fouts as well as school business manager Sherry Moody.

During the meeting, Fouts said the public had no legal right to cross the property of the school even though they may have walked along the property in the past. She said a prescriptive easement is not in place unless a court rules that it exists.

The attorney said the school was not at the meeting to talk about public access,

Fouts said she has reviewed the application and it meets the city ordinances.

"In your estimation," Laustsen said.

The school came before the Planning Board with a fence plan that would limit public access to a trail along the waterfront side of its property, despite a plea from city officials to allow the harbor trail to use that stretch.

The MCST Board plan calls for erecting a fence on the north side of the property line extending to near the water -- the side abutting Snow Marine Park -- with a gate that could be opened when school is not in session.

At the Aug. 20 Rockland Planning Board meeting, the city board voted to require the fence to be installed on three sides and no closer to the water than the base of the man-made slope, which would allow a path to be created on the water side of  the fence. In addition, it directed that the school have good-faith negotiations with the city about allowing continued public access along the waterfront trail.

The code officer has yet to issue the permit for the fence.

The school began having posts for the fence installed despite no permit being issued.

Rockland Code Enforcement Officer John Root warned the Region 8 Cooperative Board in a Sept. 10 stop work order that it risked fines of $2,500 per day and revocation of its temporary permit to use the building if it failed to comply with his order to stop building the fence.

MCST social studies teacher Jay Bakley said the school wants to be good neighbors but that safety has to be the top priority. He referenced the latest school shooting last week. He said his belief was that the fence would not block the public's access to the beach at the bottom of the bluff.

Duke said the school had allowed public access in the back of the property when the old school building was located closer to the road. The new school is located much closer to the water and the property in back is used for outdoor learning.

Fouts said when the Planning Board voted in August to require a three-sided fence that allows the public to pass along a waterfront trail, the MCST Board had not voted on the issue and the chairman who attended that meeting did not have authorization to agree to such a plan.

The school also pointed out the school has a longstanding Board policy that limits public and canines on school property.

Duke said a three-sided fence would not allow for sufficient space for outdoor learning.

At the start of the meeting, neighbor James Leach said the school has "time and time again" said the noise problem will be corrected but that as late as last month, the noise is obnoxious and no better.

He said the fence was ridiculous and creating an amphitheater was a waste of money.

Jeffrey Ryan, president of the condominium association at 25 Main St., also voiced opposition to the amphitheater/outdoor learning center.

"This is a slippery slope to an outdoor concert venue," Ryan said.

School officials repeatedly said the only plans for using the outdoor learning center for school assemblies or classes during the day.

Louise MacLellan-Ruf, a former mayor and current chair of the Rockland Harbor Trail, said the school's approach has been a slap in the face to the taxpayers of Rockland who help pay for the school. She was critical of several points including a threat of legal action if the school did not get its way.

Comments (14)
Posted by: Erik Laustsen | Nov 27, 2019 17:20

At the August 20th Rockland Planning Board meeting we passed approval of the requested MCST fence with some slight modification. The Easterly section of the fence would have moved a few feet towards the upper slope. This was agreed upon that evening by the architect that drew the proposed fence line on the site plan, the engineer, the Chair of the Region 8 Board & the Director of MCST.The following evening the City Manager, Tom Lutrell, Council Member Ed Glaser, two planning Board members including myself and others from the community, attended the Region 8 Board Meeting expecting to have a dialogue concerning the placement of the fence. At the beginning of the meeting the Chair stated that the fence was now planned to go straight down to the harbor on both the North & South sides blocking all access. Fencing was on the agenda that evening but when the time came for discussion it was passed over & no discussion took place. The site plan showing the placement of the fence at the August 20th Rockland Planning Board meeting was not rejected. It was approved with a condition & minor modifications & agreed upon by the Rockland Planning Board that evening.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 27, 2019 14:26

Is there anyone sat the school that could at least put their name to the postings on this subject. I would be nice to know unless they are afraid of something.


Posted by: Mid-Coast School of Technology | Nov 25, 2019 15:43

"Am I the only person that wonders why they don't just move the fence closer to the school to just clear the pathway, put in their gate and still use all the area behind the school while keeping the grounds secure when needed?"


The original fence proposal left a 10 foot wide walking path for public use. It was rejected by the planning board.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 23, 2019 11:21

Bill and Richard: You see, because the school wants it their way, period. They have not shone any willingness to compromise or come up with a better mousetrap. What should we expect, they got the best piece of land in Rockland and they want it all.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Nov 23, 2019 06:17

Mr. Packard, I have been wondering the same thing.  Very SIMPLE solution.  There was a time when compromise was not a dirty word. We need to get back to that.

Posted by: Bill Packard | Nov 22, 2019 18:50

Am I the only person that wonders why they don't just move the fence closer to the school to just clear the pathway, put in their gate and still use all the area behind the school while keeping the grounds secure when needed?

Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Nov 22, 2019 09:14

I just read a cost estimate for a PermaTrak oceanfront, 1,600 ft long by 12 ft wide (10 ft, clearance between railings) boardwalk of $1.2 million. If the boardwalk started and finished above a reasonable estimation of the high tide mark, it would be level end-to-end. It could arc out over the water and nicely past the school.

Posted by: Jane Karker | Nov 21, 2019 08:03

I hope the path is kept open to us (the public) as it always has. I enjoy it. There are so few wild paths left now for us to enjoy with our grand dog. It’s such a small thing to the school but a big change in our daily lives for those of us who have walked the path for generations.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 20, 2019 19:25

This entire mess should have been agreed to at the time of the permit process for the entire project. Piecemeal permits and all the back and forth business is a complete waste of time. I am disappointed that Bob Duke, being the willing participant on so many community efforts would even belittle another such effort by "I want a better board". Is a better board one you would chose the members of? Is a better board made up of people who do not care? Is a better board a group who do not know what they are doing? I comment Erick for his response. We are Rockland and not Rockport and should not be thinking, even at the worst moment that they are superior or intellectually better, or any possible difference in the two towns that makes this an angry or even sinister relationship. However, that feeling is well planted historically. I have seen and heard past efforts brought forward to the planning board and some we can agree with and some we may think are out of their purview. This is exactly why we have a planning board, why these folks dedicate so much effort, time, and all that it encompasses to do the best job they can at interpreting, understanding the duties, researching, and coming to an agreement. Their agreement we hope is to benefit the public, the public in Rockland, please. There is no worse place for this school to be placed than where it is. The Harbor, to my knowledge is not the focus of their studies. The focus is manual arts and in order to provide an education for those that might just not fit the college circuit. The folks that compete many courses here are ready for entry level jobs and professions without being strapped with huge financial debt. The communities involved stepped forward with gusto to finance this endeavor. The numbers of participants in the effort to gain access confuses me. Is there a number that can be relied upon to show there is in fact a definite loss of "community value" if, and only if the school is successful in this venture. It appears that the powers to me including the current administration is jockeying for position to expect that whatever they want they should get just out of the use of the word "education". Education opportunities offered at this facility are valuable to our students, no doubt. However, research, planning, implementation, approval, and other parts of the process should be dealt with with full knowledge that the process is there and they will comply. Bring high priced lawyers into the fold, also paid for my the folks who have made this school happen is disappointing at best and tells me, if no one else, that the school is not on solid grounds and needs to "fight" to get it done their way. The out of doors learning is a long stretch of imagination that makes that such a crucial learning tools for as Mr. Mckusic points out is highly questionable and without some better explanation is only usable for a short period of time and may not be the best usage of our tax dollars, as I believe this came later in the process when the school got all flushed about having it. Apparently no one considered the change of venue and its complicated process including the public access. The school board policy dealing with the public and the canines might be well reviewed with public input. I doubt very much that will ever happen. Once you establish a policy, without justifiable reasoning the chance of change is nil. A public outcry, a few hundred with their canines might get some attention. Mr. Leach has some serious concerns. Who is seriously looking at them. The school must not be if the same noise problems exist. Does the school not have an indoor area for assemblies, in that giant building? An outdoor concert venue is way bejond the expectation of a vocational school, especially when that was not a highlight of the original plan/financing. Louise, whom, I do not always agree with, is spot that his is a slap in the face to Rockland folks who pushed for this school and legal action should be financed by the individual members of the board who do not want to adhere to the planning board and think they are above it. Kathryn Fogg, a dedicated long time employee and advocate for the City of Rockland and all taxpayers is also spot on with here comments. Please read her eloquent remarks again and again until it become as vibrant as it is in your mind. Added comments by Mr. Leach should not be needed, but how else can this situation best be described. This is an effort of the director to undermine this process and perhaps a new employment opportunity should be forthcoming. We know that is not in the works for all of those great minds, be they as they may be, are so solid and unified that one might think of this being a one person dictatorship struggling to maintain control while the masses get smarter and smarter and more powerful.

Posted by: James Clinton Leach | Nov 20, 2019 14:40

The response  from the Vo-Tech which is defiantly Director Fisher speaking, it is totally unprofessional, her words further demonstrate to all that her Narcissist personally disorder can not be kept in check. I wish her all the best is addressing this belittle a person because they don’t agree with her regarding the ( fencing & amphitheater ) is uncalled for and I expect more from my Director then this playground assault and name calling. I imagine  the three at the table last night advised Ms Fisher to wait in the hall, no doubt on the advise of council.. The planning board has a job to do and to criticize them for attempting to gather all pertinent information regarding these issues is unfounded, unfair.


Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Nov 20, 2019 13:12

Jay Bakley said the public path could be at the LOW water mark.  That is not part of the property the school is claiming.  That would not give a dry path for the public.  Anyone familiar with that area knows that at the high water mark, one deals with sand fleas and at the low water mark with muck.
Either Bakley or Robert Duke said most of the teachers were wanting the proposed fence to be left unlocked so students could have access to Snow Marine Park.  If that is the case, what is the purpose of a fence?  Duke said there was no way to get into the building without pressing a button.  That is not correct.  The last time I went in, I caught the door of someone who was coming out. No way will a outgoing student stand at the door with arms outstretched across the entrance blocking someone who wants to go in.
Duke also said the gate would be unlocked in the afternoon when school closes.  Does that mean there will be no more adult education classes in evening?  I can envision that there will be very little time when there is no activity at the school.
The board has also said that only service dogs will be allowed on the property.  That would prevent people enjoying a gentle walk with their pet.  That is the intent of the administration.
There is also a question on the stability of the land to have an amphitheater added.  The Planning Board is fortunate in having an associated member who has knowledge of these issues which evidently includes even the front parking lot.   It was just a few years ago Rockland saw homes slide off into the water on Samoset Road.
The administrator writes that the Rockland Board just makes up things as  go along, yet her board is able to do this much more easily.  While Rockland has given up
waterfront property value for a nonprofit use, I doubt they envisioned its extent.  The deed is done.  The original plan never included an amphitheater but finding leftover money, the school is trying to find a way to spend it.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 20, 2019 12:12

Personally, I would bet that ninety percent of Rockland taxpayers do not care one way or another. Seems to me people have plenty of places to walk and exercise already, so nobody will die if this piece of land gets fenced off. Being born and raised in Rockland I can honestly say I have never been on that trail and so far it has not killed me.I

Posted by: Mid-Coast School of Technology | Nov 20, 2019 08:54

The code allows the fence to the property line. The purpose of the Planning Board is to ensure things are in compliance with the code but instead they just want to make up new rules as they go along. It is sad that this working class community is so down on a school dedicated to educating students who will be the tradespeople providing revenue to the city for generations to come. How often the outdoor learning space will be used has no bearing on whether it is an asset to the school. How often are the football fields used? Just because they are not used in February doesn't mean we should rule against their existence? There is a code, common sense and communication. How about using them instead of all the foolishness and grandstanding by a few who have said from the beginning they don't want the tech school built at all?

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Nov 20, 2019 04:53

Realistically, how many months can the outdoor amphitheater/learning center be used? Middle of September until the middle of October and May until the middle of June? Maybe three months a year? At what cost?  Forget it. That will allow pulling the fence back a reasonable distance and fix the noise.

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