Crooked River School project fails by big margin

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Area voters Tuesday sent a clear message to SAD 61 officials that a $9.6 million renovation and new construction at Crooked River School was too much money for their liking.

Or, were there other reasons the project was rejected by a 1,698-604 margin?

Superintendent of Schools Al Smith will try to determine why residents in the district’s four towns decided either to support or reject the proposal before the school board considers other options.

While some voters expressed their opinions on social media sites — they were against tax increases while others remained convinced that the proposal could lead to the closure of Sebago Elementary — Smith wants to hear all of the underlying reasons why the proposal failed in three of the four towns. An e-mail address has been created to enable community members to send Smith comments and suggestions regarding the $9.6 million project and how SAD 61 should proceed. The address is: elemfac@lakeregionschools.org

The vote was as follows:

Bridgton: 181 yes, 537 no

Casco: 188 yes, 186 no

Naples: 215 yes, 390 no

Sebago: 20 yes, 585 no

Despite a number of community forums, meetings with selectmen and a public hearing prior to Tuesday’s vote, Smith feels “inaccurate” information had been circulated, which likely had a negative impact on voting.

One element was being able to spend just $500,000 to address minor renovations at the 30-year-old facility, and thus make it adequate to house Grades 3, 4 and 5.

Smith emphasized that amount of money would barely scratch the surface of work the facility needs. He again pointed out that an early message school officials received, when they targeted Crooked River as a solution to the overcrowding problem at Songo Locks, was to “do it once, do it right.” Thus, school officials were not looking for a “band-aid approach,” but rather a solution that would address educational needs for the next 40 to 50 years.

Smith also wondered whether voters rejected the proposal because of fears SAD 61 might close Sebago Elementary at some point down the road because Crooked River would be in a position to take on more students (the facility could handle 350 students, while projected enrollment numbers at the time of opening would be 250-plus). Smith reiterated there has been no formal move or discussion to close Sebago Elementary.

“Obviously, we are disappointed by the vote. It’s a setback, but we will continue to look at options that will be in the best educational interests of our children and our district,” Smith said. “What concerns me is that the project pits one community against others. We don’t want that to happen. We want to find a solution that is solid and puts kids first.”

To find a solution everyone can back, the superintendent is hopeful the community will voice their collective opinion on what the next step should be.

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