April 04, 2020

SAD 31 to vote on $2 million for school roof repairs

The fate of a controversial proposal to spend $2 million for school roof repair projects will be decided by voters of the eight towns in SAD 31 during a Nov. 2 referendum vote.

SAD 31 residents will consider authorizing the school board to borrow $1 million from the state’s Revolving Renovation Fund to fix the Penobscot Valley High School roof.

District taxpayers won’t have to pay back $626,900 of the $1 million loan. The remaining $373,100 will be an interest-free loan the district will pay back in 10 years. Also, voters will consider an identical proposal for the Hichborn Middle School roof. Paying back the loans would add about $74,620 a year to the budget for debt service costs.

Superintendent Dr. Terri Krass said the roof repair projects are long overdue. Structural supports in the high school roof were damaged significantly during the ice storm of 1998. The roof leaks badly every time it rains or when snow melts, saturating the insulation board. To get through the winter, the school district has contracted snow shoveling. Krass said it was costly but necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff.

The list of problems at the high school does not end with its roof. Krass said the school’s air circulation system is obsolete and its wiring is outdated and inadequate. The school district has applied to the state for funding to construct a new high school and expects a decision in January. If approved by the state, district voters can expect to go back to the polls in June to vote on a new school.

Some town officials and residents are asking why the school district is asking voters to approve roof repairs before officials knew whether the state had approved funding a new high school.

Krass said the roof repair project for the high school would not move forward until there is a decision from the state on the new school proposal. She said the district would not borrow $1 million to fix the high school roof, if a new high school is approved.

But the middle school roof project will move forward with repairs to begin as soon as students leave school in June. Krass said the many leaks in the middle school roof had caused mold to grow in classrooms. “This poses health problems for many students and staff members,” she said.

Because the 29-year-old middle school roof does not meet minimum snow load capacity, it must be structurally upgraded, the superintendent said. The roof contains asbestos materials, which requires strict, costly disposal. “The conditions at the middle school are so serious, the state classified it as an emergency project when the funds were granted,” said Krass.

Howland Town Manager Glenna Armour said she is upset that the school board included a recommendation on the ballot for the roof projects. She said the school board is trying to influence the outcome of the vote.

Krass disagreed. She said the school district’s attorney advised her the board was entitled to make a recommendation.

SAD 31 voters also will consider a proposal to change the format of the school budget accounts. The item is one of two generated by a petition drive.

“They will have to break the budget under more categories than they do now so people have an idea of where the money is going,” said Armour, one of the petitioners.

But Armour is upset that a second issue brought to the board by petitioners won’t be on next week’s ballot. That proposal asks voters to consider changing the method by which the annual school budget is adopted, from a single-night district budget meeting to a daylong referendum vote.

“It should have been on the November ballot,” said Armour. She said petitions were presented to the board 48 days before the November election and the signatures had already been verified by the respective town clerks. She said the issue was not on the Nov. 2 ballot because school officials had dragged their feet.

Krass disagreed. She said the proposal required a 45-day notice to the towns in order to be put on the Nov. 2 ballot. But by the time every town was notified, there were only 42 days left before the election. She was advised by the district’s attorney that the 42-day notice would be acceptable as long as none of the towns objected, but one town did object.

The superintendent said she did not oppose changing the budget format or having a daylong vote to adopt the school budget.

The polls in the eight school district town will be open Tuesday, Nov. 2 as follows: from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Enfield town office; from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Burlington municipal building, at the Lowell town office, and at the Howland town hall; from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the old school building in Edinburg, at Town Clerk Karen Carson’s house in Maxfield, and at the community building in Seboeis.

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