VAN BUREN – Residents of Van Buren, the largest of three municipalities in SAD 24, will go to the polls Nov. 7 to decide if the school district will close Gateway Elementary School and move pupils there into a renovated Van Buren District Secondary School.
Before the vote on Election Day, residents will have an opportunity to get information on the merger at a public hearing that will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, in the high school auditorium.
SAD 24, which encompasses Van Buren, Hamlin and Cyr, has been facing declining enrollments for several years. The closure of the Gateway Elementary School has been discussed in the past, but this will be the first time residents vote on the issue.
Closing the school could mean an annual savings of $123,408. Renovations needed to house the young pupils at the high school have been estimated to cost $296,998.79.
Three areas of renovations would be restroom facilities, playground changes, and the movement of classes to keep younger and older children segregated.
Until the school district decides what to do with the emptied Gateway Elementary School, it could cost the district $24,330 a year to keep it heated and insured.
It would be up to the school district to find a use for the building. Ownership would not be turned over to the town because the school was built entirely with state funds. The building never was owned by the town.
Superintendent Clayton Belanger said Tuesday that the change could occur as fast as the next school year, in fall 2007, but renovation schedules could push that back.
In the event that Van Buren residents vote not to close the school, the town of Van Buren would have to pay $123,408 a year more than its annual share of the SAD 24 budget. Van Buren residents only get to vote on the question because a move could, in effect, close the last elementary school in the town.
This marks the second time the school district has looked at the question in the last three years. This time a cost data committee has been formed to evaluate the cost savings of closing Gateway Elementary School. The school was constructed in 1975.
The Gateway school educates about 180 pupils in pre-kindergarten through grade six. The secondary school, grades seven through 12, has approximately 225 students.
Both the school board and the Town Council have signed off on the referendum vote.
“This is the furthest we ever got with this [a merger],” Belanger said. “This has come up several times in the past and the process was stopped.
“In the past either teachers, school board members or parents had objections,” he said. “There is less of that this time around.”
Some changes already have taken place at the secondary school.
The middle school area has been moved, and work has started on floors. During the harvest recess, some windows were changed and equipment that would not be used by elementary children has been moved from the area that would be occupied by the pupils.
The biggest part of the project, the creation of classrooms and other areas for elementary school pupils, could take some time.
Belanger estimated construction would take about a year.