Option B or C? SAD 72 weighs school building plans

DESCRIBING THE PROJECT — Architect Stephen Blatt outlined how a new elementary wing and common area would fit with the existing middle school building during last Thursday's informational meeting. (Rivet Photo)

DESCRIBING THE PROJECT — Architect Stephen Blatt outlined how a new elementary wing and common area would fit with the existing middle school building during last Thursday's informational meeting. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — As the new school year approaches, Jay Robinson finds himself wearing two hats.

He enters his first fall as SAD 72’s Superintendent of Schools, and will face many new challenges compared to a year ago when he occupied the principal’s seat at Molly Ockett Middle School.

“I view our biggest challenge as continuing to meet the needs of students given budgetary constraints. We have many students who have significant needs, and I would like nothing more than to be able to provide every student what he or she needs to achieve success,” he said. “However, providing alternative programming, after-school and summer-school programming, and out-of-district placements for our most needy students comes with significant costs.”

Balancing student needs and a budget taxpayers can afford will be a major juggling act.

“When many families in our communities are struggling financially, the district has an obligation to make sure that our school budget is reasonable and will be supported by the public,” Robinson said. “The local-only costs associated with the building project will only complicate matters further.”

The “building project” represents Robinson’s second hat — that of a salesman. How will SAD 72 address replacing the deteriorating C.A. Snow School? The project landed as Number 5 on the state’s school construction list. Now, SAD 72 must decide whether to build a new wing onto Molly Ockett Middle School or make a more drastic change — build a facility large enough to house the entire district’s K-8 student population, all on one campus.

Robinson made his first public sales pitch last Thursday night at an informational hearing held in the MOMS cafeteria/auditorium before a small crowd. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Robinson outlined the two options, identifying potential cost savings and new approaches.

“I was fortunate to be involved in the building project from its inception (as I was the middle school principal). Gary (MacFarland) was very good about keeping the administrative team up to speed on major topics, and when I was elected by the board in early spring, Gary and I collaborated on things such as budget development, contract negotiations with Fryeburg Academy, and the building project, although he maintained responsibility for and the final say in those matters,” Robinson said.

Now, Robinson is front and center, along with architect Stephen Blatt of Auburn (who was chosen in September 2012), presenting taxpayers with two options. Upfront, Robinson emphasized he will not pitch on option in favor of another, but rather clearly present all vital information to allow voters to decide at a December referendum which path to follow.

BUILDING ARRANGEMENT — A new elementary win would be to the left (green) with a common area (yellow) between the younger students and the existing middle school facility on the right (red). P1 w34 snow school project schedule June 2013: Formation of Ad Hoc Building Committee (members include Pat White, Lisa Thompson, Jim Stacy, Laurie Weston, Steve Dupuis, Bob Steller, Gary MacDonald, Jay Robinson and David Powers). August/September 2013: Public meetings on the building project. Fall 2013: School Board approval of building project. October 2013: State Board concept approval. October/November 2013: Public presentations. December 2013: District referendum. December 2014: State Board design approval. April 2015: Construction begins. August 2016: Occupancy. P1 w34 snow school options Difference between “B” and “C” • Enrollment (including Molly Ockett) Option B, 580 students Option C, 830 students Project enrollment for all communities, Grades Pre-K to 8, 2012-13, 777; 2016-17 (when the new facility will open), 803 to 883. • Classrooms (Pre-K to Grade 4) Option B, 15 Option C, 25 • Library Option B, 3,100 square feet Option C, 3,800 square feet • Multi-purpose room Option B, 3,100 square feet Option C, 3,800 square feet • Kitchen/Cafeteria Option B, 4,330 square feet Option C, 6,045 square feet • Special Services Option B, 6,670 square feet Option C, 9,270 square feet • Building size (including Molly Ockett) Option B, 106,000 square feet Option C, 127,000 square feet Estimated Yearly Savings • Operating costs Option B, $7,225 Option C, $294,500 • Staff Travel Option B, — Option C, $16,500 • Staffing Option B, $100,500 Option C, $752,300 • Portable Leasing Option B, $68,292 Option C, $68,292 • Total Option B, $168,792 Option C, $1,131,592

BUILDING ARRANGEMENT — A new elementary win would be to the left (green) with a common area (yellow) between the younger students and the existing middle school facility on the right (red). Snow school project schedule
June 2013: Formation of Ad Hoc Building Committee (members include Pat White, Lisa Thompson, Jim Stacy, Laurie Weston, Steve Dupuis, Bob Steller, Gary MacDonald, Jay Robinson and David Powers).
August/September 2013: Public meetings on the building project.
Fall 2013: School Board approval of building project.
October 2013: State Board concept approval.
October/November 2013: Public presentations.
December 2013: District referendum.
December 2014: State Board design approval.
April 2015: Construction begins.
August 2016: Occupancy.
Difference between “B” and “C”
• Enrollment (including Molly Ockett)
Option B, 580 students
Option C, 830 students
Project enrollment for all communities, Grades Pre-K to 8, 2012-13, 777; 2016-17 (when the new facility will open), 803 to 883.
• Classrooms (Pre-K to Grade 4)
Option B, 15
Option C, 25
• Library
Option B, 3,100 square feet
Option C, 3,800 square feet
• Multi-purpose room
Option B, 3,100 square feet
Option C, 3,800 square feet
• Kitchen/Cafeteria
Option B, 4,330 square feet
Option C, 6,045 square feet
• Special Services
Option B, 6,670 square feet
Option C, 9,270 square feet
• Building size (including Molly Ockett)
Option B, 106,000 square feet
Option C, 127,000 square feet
Estimated Yearly Savings
• Operating costs
Option B, $7,225
Option C, $294,500
• Staff Travel
Option B, —
Option C, $16,500
• Staffing
Option B, $100,500
Option C, $752,300
• Portable Leasing
Option B, $68,292
Option C, $68,292
• Total
Option B, $168,792
Option C, $1,131,592

 

 

SAD 72’s initial application to the state in June 2010 called for the replacement of the Snow School (first construction was in 1949), as well as the superintendent’s office. The plan would also eliminate 13 portable classrooms in the district (two at Denmark Elementary, seven at Molly Ockett and four at Snow). The proposal called for the expansion of the Molly Ockett site to include instructional space for the entire district’s Pre-K to Grade 8 students, with “shared” core facilities between the elementary and middle school populations.

As part of the application process, the district had to research and prepare a report on short-term and long-term educational and financial impacts.

Initial options were:

Option A — Replace the Snow School only. Under this scenario, the district would continue to use seven portable classrooms at Molly Ockett and two portables at Denmark Elementary.

Option B — Replace the Snow School with Pre-K through Grade 5 on Molly Ockett site; operate New Suncook as a Pre-K to Grade 4, moving fifth graders to Molly Ockett; and Denmark as Pre-K to Grade 2. No portable classrooms would remain.

Option C — Consolidate all schools at the Molly Ockett site; no portable classrooms remaining; close Denmark Elementary and New Suncook.

Robinson pointed out that the Maine Department of Education would not support Option A, since it does not resolve SAD 72’s lack of instructional space, requiring the use of portable classrooms.

So, on the table are Options B and C. With the state pushing regionalization and consolidation over the past five years as a way to reduce educational costs (in wake of declining state revenue and aid to school systems), DOE favors Option C, but taxpayers will first decide which plan to send to Augusta for conceptual and funding approval.

“Commissioner (Stephen) Bowen sees great benefit in Option C for the value, long-term financial sustainability, and potential education program enhancements for the district,” Robinson said in his Power-Point presentation. “He feels that if the District chooses Option B, it would need compelling reasons why that option is in the best interest of the students and taxpayers of MSAD 72.”

Building advantages

Architect Stephen Blatt knows how difficult it is for a community to give up its elementary school. The school is often the “hub” of the town.

However, Blatt sees many educational advantages of bringing an entire elementary and middle school population onto the same campus. One major plus is giving all students the same opportunity to access latest technology and specialized services. Blatt recently was involved in a new facility built in Dexter, which houses about 800 students. Five town schools were closed in favor of one facility.

The Option C proposal at Molly Ockett calls for the construction of a wing to house Pre-K to Grade 4, as well as a “common area” situated in the middle of the facility, which would include a cafeteria. The common area would act as a barrier in separating the facility’s younger students from those in the upper grades.

A Grade 5 wing would also be created on the middle school side of the facility.

Blatt also noted that new and improved athletic fields would be created.

Maintenance Director David Powers said the facility upgrade would include improved lighting and “fresh air” ventilation, as well as efficient heating and cooling systems. The project would eliminate the use of portables, thus improving school security.

“The new facility would have one point of access,” Powers said. “That is a tremendous advantage from a safety standpoint.”

Emily Kirkpatrick, MOMS principal, presented a variety of educational advantages to a new campus, including expansion of specialized programming from gifted and talented to foreign languages to lower grade levels.

Currently, students at Snow School lack dedicated space for music and art. A new facility would provide opportunities to expand band and chorus to fifth graders.

Kirkpatrick also noted that “social opportunities” exist under Option C since middle schoolers could serve as “reading buddies” and “peer tutors” to younger students.

Option C would bring all staff onto the same site, thus increasing collaboration and communication. Because the district is so rural, special workshop days are needed to bring the entire SAD 72 staff together for professional development.

Building Committee member and former director Pat White admitted she was skeptical of the one-campus format, at first, but has since changed her outlook.

“I am convinced consolidation would be a good thing based on new technology and other advantages all of our kids could experience,” she said. “One thing, Snow is a mess.”

What’s the cost?

One surprise Robinson received when talking with state officials was that no matter which option SAD 72 taxpayers select, there will be a local cost to build a new complex.

Initially, SAD 72 officials were led to believe that the $23 million would be covered by the state. Untrue. SAD 72 will be responsible for 34% of the project, while the state will pick up 66%.

“It’s disappointing news,” Robinson said, “but if you are a person that looks at things as half full, not half empty, at least the state is picking up 66%.”

Projecting costs is difficult, so Robinson based his “financial considerations” using figures that “reflect conditions today.”

“Our goal is to provide citizens with accurate information to make decisions about the two concepts,” he said.

Financial factors included operating costs (fuel, electrical, maintenance and capital improvements), travel, staffing and portable leasing.

Option C would save SAD 72 an estimated $294,500 per year — $178,000 fuel/electrical, $40,500 maintenance, and $76,000 capital improvements.

Staff reductions will occur under both options.

Under Option B, three full-time positions (two teaching and one secretarial) would be eliminated, saving a projected $100,500.

Under Option C, there would be a reduction of 17.08 full-time positions (including administrative, teaching, custodial, food service and other support staff), resulting in a projected savings of $752,300.

Robinson noted that “at no point was the goal to decrease costs by increasing class sizes” and the “goal is to maintain favorable student-teacher ratios and to maintain the level of programming currently offered.”

Both options eliminate the use of portable classrooms. SAD 72 presently spends $68,292 per year on these leased spaces.

The final yearly savings tally:

Option B — $168,792

Option C — $1,131,592

So what will be the cost to SAD 72 taxpayers? Option B would likely call for $20 million, thus the local tab would be about $10,727,000 while the state’s piece would be $20,823,000 for a total of $31,550,000 (interest). Option C would cost about $25 million — SAD 72’s share at $13,408,750 and the state at $26,028,750 for a total of $39,437,500.

Robinson pointed out in a final PowerPoint slide that if taxpayers chose Option C, the projected savings of $1.5 million over the first five years would help offset payments on the project bond.

Taxpayer concerns

One worry, if Option C prevails, is children in outlying areas facing a lengthy bus ride each day into Fryeburg. Jim Stacy, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, said the group would investigate possible transportation solutions such as “express buses.”

Another concern is what will happen to the Denmark and Lovell elementary school buildings. The district could turn the structures over to the respective towns for new uses, or collaborations with nearby school districts (Lake Region and Sacopee Valley) could result in development of specialized educational uses, similar to the adult education program SAD 61 shifted to the former Crooked River Elementary School in Casco, off Route 11.

Taxpayers asked Robinson to prepare a breakdown of what each option would cost each district town, and present that information at a future public hearing. Another resident asked Robinson to post as much project information and upcoming meeting dates on the SAD 72 website as a way to educate and keep the public informed.

Building Committee members

 Members of the C.A. Snow School Building Committee include:

John Jones of Lovell

Frank Verhoorn of Denmark

John Weston of Fryeburg

George Cunningham of Fryeburg

Pat White of Brownfield

Marie Struven (board member) of Fryeburg

Kathleen Lyman (board member) of Sweden

James Stacy (board member) of Denmark

Emily Kirkpatrick, Molly Ockett principal

Rhonda Poliquin, New Suncook principal

Jay Robinson, SAD 72 superintendent

Dave Powers, Maintenance director

Stephen Blatt, architect

SAD 72 building history

1854: 17 school districts in Fryeburg area

1949: Snow School initial construction

1953: Additional Snow School construction

1968: Scott district formed; 7 district schools

1972: New Suncook School opened

1972: Last additional construction at Snow School

1986: Annie Heald School burns

1988: Molly Ockett M.S. opens

1989: Denmark Elementary opened

1989: New Suncook expanded

1999: Portable (library/special ed) added at Snow

1999: Portable (Health/French) added at Molly Ockett

2000: Portable (2 Special Ed) added at Molly Ockett

2001: Portable added at Molly Ockett

2004: S.F. Adams School closed

2004: Portable (Bridge) added at Molly Ockett

2006: Brownfield School closed

2006: Portable (Grades 4/5) added at Denmark Elementary

2008: Portable added at Snow School

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