SAD 61 to take another crack at CRES renovation, expansion with fall vote

Crooked River School
Historical Look at SAD 61 projects
Year/Project
1968: Sebago Elementary, grades K-5, $388,854
1985: Lake Region Middle School, grades 7-8, $2,365,000
1985: Crooked River Elementary, grades 4-6, $1,720,000
1987: Sebago Elementary School front wing
1992: Songo Locks School, grades K-3, $5,090,000
1998: Central Office, $300,000
1999: Stevens Brook Elementary renovation, grades K-6, $7,499,533
1999: Lake Region Middle School addition, $2,955,000
1999: Athletic Field complex, $1,000,000
2000: LRVC Whitehouse modular, Grades 9-12, $840,235
2001: LRHS East Wing modular, $592,000
2003: Sebago Elementary modular, $388,854
2008: LRMS renovate lower level, $512,788
2010: Songo Locks modular addition, $587.461
2012: LRHS-LRVC addition/renovation, Essential Services building, $13,837,000
2018: Songo Locks traffic pattern, parking, $548,415
2018: LRMS traffic pattern, parking, $347,729

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

As the final touches were being applied to the new bus drop-off points and parking spaces at both Songo Locks School and Lake Region Middle School, the focus of SAD 61 officials is now on an old project — Crooked River School.

Superintendent of Schools Al Smith told the school board at last week’s meeting in Casco that the district will take another crack this November at gaining taxpayer approval for a bond to address improvements to repurpose the facility as an elementary school for grades three to five.

Twice, the idea was soundly rejected.

In 2015, when the proposal carried a $9.6 million price-tag, it was rejected 1698 to 604. The breakdown (yes/no): Bridgton 181–537; Casco 188–186; Naples 215–390; Sebago 20–585.

In 2016, the plan was scaled back to $7.8 million, but suffered the same fate — rejected, 1575–1156 (margin of 419). The breakdown (yes/no): Bridgton 379–492; Casco 325–254; Naples 419–406; Sebago 33–423.

Two years later, SAD 61 is still facing the same problem — Songo Locks is overcrowded (the facility was built to house about 360 students, yet enrollment is close to 440), and two portable classrooms that were brought in to ease the crunch are starting to show some “wear and tear.”

New Director Tuan Nguyen asked the superintendent if the next proposal would carry a lower cost or if the project would be scaled down?

While district officials and the architect continue to work on plans, Smith said the proposal would be very similar to the last one that went to voters with a few tweaks, such as putting off playing field improvements. As for the cost, numbers are being generated and will likely be presented at the next board meeting (Aug. 27, 7 p.m. at Stevens Brook Elementary in Bridgton). However, Smith speculated that costs would be up.

What will be different this time around will be scratching the Sebago vote from the equation. Sebago withdrew from SAD 61 and will open next month as its own school district (yet still sending students to the middle and high schools on a tuition basis).

A key to gaining approval, both Smith and School Board chairman Janice Barter said, will be better communication with taxpayers.

“I think we need to do a better job from the financial position. Our debt payments will basically remain constant with the retiring of the Songo Locks School (SLS) and Stevens Brook Elementary school and athletic field bonds as this CRES bond starts to be paid,” Barter said. “Also, we now have a whole grade of students in a portable at SLS. The costs of the portables alone will help to defray the costs of the CRES bond, as well.”

Barter added that to grow the Lake Region, the area needs to attract families.

“A refurbished, upgraded CRES will help to do that,” she pointed out.

After being on the shelf for nearly two years, Superintendent Smith sees the time is right to give the project another look.

“Sometimes, the need for a project like CRES, when first presented, isn’t always obvious to people. Time often provides the opportunity for the need to become truly apparent,” he said. “The issues that we have been and currently are experiencing in regards to SLS haven’t changed. In fact, due to the student population numbers and the increase in our special educational population, we have had to add two external portables that support seven additional classrooms — one of which houses the fifth grade.”

Smith hopes taxpayers attend informational meetings to hear the full scope of the project, as well as get an accurate handle on how the costs will shake out (what it will mean in terms of their taxes) as SAD 61 starts to retire some existing debt.

“I believe we need to make sure we more clearly communicate with the public the debt of bonds that we currently have and their end dates. We need to clearly communicate to the public that by the time the CRES bond starts, two major bond debts (SBES and athletic filed bonds) will have reached their maturity. Thus, providing an opportunity to maintain a consistent financial debt position,” Smith noted. “Further, due to the portable lease costs and other annual portable expenses, our annual expenditure for the two newest external portables are over $100,000 a year. In reviewing the tentative CRES bond costs, these combined expenditures will be close to, if not completely cover the bond costs for the CRES project.”

In other school board notes:

Busy summer. Parking and drop-off improvements at SLS and LRMS should be completed by the start of the school year, Smith reported. It’s been a busy summer on the upgrade front. Paving was also done behind the high school, while the school’s second floor main hallway had new carpet installed. Four bathrooms were also upgraded.

Director Karla Swanson-Murphy asked whether a sign identifying the middle school was part of the improvement plan there. While there is lettering on the building, a sign near the roadway could be helpful. Smith planned to look into it.

Nearly a full staff. Despite three candidates deciding to rescind acceptance of positions in SAD 61, Smith says the district has just three openings left to fill before opening day. Nominations approved by the board included:

  • Laurie Porter as school nurse at Lake Region High School. She earned her bachelor of science in Nursing from Idaho State University, and from February 2006 to June 2018 was district school RN for Vallivue School District in Caldwell, Idaho. There were 12 applicants, two were interviewed.
  • Courtney Roberts as Athletic Trainer. She earned her bachelor of science in Athletic Training from the University of Southern Maine, and was an intern from January to May, 2018, at Bridgton Academy. There were five applicants, three were interviewed.

Note: As part of the Back to School edition, The News will report on all new staff as well as transfers.

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