SEVERAL STUDENTS from Wiscasset Middle and High schools attended Monday’s meeting, speaking in favor of keeping the middle school open. “I’m not allowed to vote, but I just wanted to put my opinion out there,” said Marguerita Fairfield, above, a fifth-grade student at the middle school. “I really like going to Wiscasset Middle School, I feel more responsible getting to go there because it’s just a really amazing place to be.”

SEVERAL STUDENTS from Wiscasset Middle and High schools attended Monday’s meeting, speaking in favor of keeping the middle school open. “I’m not allowed to vote, but I just wanted to put my opinion out there,” said Marguerita Fairfield, above, a fifth-grade student at the middle school. “I really like going to Wiscasset Middle School, I feel more responsible getting to go there because it’s just a really amazing place to be.”

WISCASSET

WISCASSET SCHOOL COMMITTEE members, from left, Eugene Stover, Chelsea Haggett, Steve Smith and Superintendent Lyford Beverage, at Monday’s meeting.

WISCASSET SCHOOL COMMITTEE members, from left, Eugene Stover, Chelsea Haggett, Steve Smith and Superintendent Lyford Beverage, at Monday’s meeting.

In a special meeting Monday night, the Wiscasset School Committee voted 3-2 to close the Wiscasset Primary School by the 2015-16 school year, turning the under-used middle school into a K-8 facility.

The vote taken by the fivemember committee is nonbinding without a citizen petition, requesting town officials authorize a special election for a legally binding closure to be voted on by residents.

A minimum of 167 Wiscasset residents are required to sign the petition which must be submitted to the selectmen at least 45 days prior to an election, said school committee chairman Steve Smith, noting that it would not likely meet the deadline for the Nov. 5 ballot.

“We would save $129,850 more by closing the primary school than the middle school,” said Smith, “and the total savings for next year would be $785,524.”

Closing the middle school would save the town a total of $655,764, according to estimates provided by Superintendent Lyford Beverage, and would require grades 5 and 6 to move to the primary school, and grades 7 and 8 to the high school.

As of Sept. 11, there were 189 students enrolled at the Wiscasset High School — of which approximately 60 tuition in to the school — down from a projected enrollment of more than 200. The middle school has 161 students enrolled and the primary school has 202 students.

“We’re down to a really scary number of kids,” said Smith. “ We’re not going to have two schools in five years unless we do something.”

The cost for “ mothballing” — maintaining a building while not in use, which includes heat, insurance and other costs — the primary school is $53,600. Mothballing the middle school is less expensive, at $48,950.

“ We looked at the roof and the buildings and it’s thought that this can be done without any major construction projects for the next five years,” said Smith of moving the primary students to the middle school.

Despite the cost savings, several residents who attended the standing room-only committee meeting in the Wiscasset High School library expressed concerns about moving the primary students to the middle school.

The primary issues voiced concerned the safety of younger students on the stairs at the middle school and the safety of the playground, which is not fenced in. Questions were also raised about the cost of moving the students and making renovations to accommodate the primary students, a cost estimate for which was not available.

“I had heard at a previous meeting that additional parking would need to be created … and would there also be the attendant lighting?” said Wiscasset resident Linda Pope, noting that she didn’t want additional light pollution in the area.

“Tear down the fences, put some rocks up there and park in the tennis courts,” said Smith, adding that it would likely be daytime parking only, with no additional lighting installed.

Pope also asked if the ongoing relationship between the primary school and adjacent Morris Farm Trust — including a primary school garden on the farm’s grounds and produce from the farm used in the cafeteria — would be affected by losing proximity to the farm.

“ When I was leaning toward (keeping the primary school open), the whole campus feel was what I was thinking about,” said Smith. “But the fact that we have $129,000 more by closing the primary school is really the only issue for me, unfortunately.

“We need to get a budget that’s going to be passed by the town,” said Smith, “and we need to get into a position where we’re not be drawing money down from the reserve fund for the next few years. Nobody in this town can afford a 25 percent tax increase.”

Smith noted again that the net difference between closing the primary school as opposed to closing the middle school was $129,000, and said that money could be used to make modifications to the middle school to make it more suitable for younger students.

“It’s an obvious answer to me to save the most money we can right now,” said Wiscasset School Committee vice chairman Glen Craig, speaking in favor of closing the primary school. “We’ve already determined that the foundation of our school system, which is our children and our teachers, is not going to be affected by this,” he said, noting that the staff and students would be able to adjust to either facility.

Numerous students from the Wiscasset Middle and High schools also attended the meeting, speaking in favor of keeping the middle school open.

“I’m not allowed to vote, but I just wanted to put my opinion out there,” said Marguerita Fairfield, a fifth-grade student at the middle school. “I really like going to Wiscasset Middle School, I feel more responsible getting to go there because it’s just a really amazing place to be.”

After more than an hour of discussion, Craig twice made motion to close the primary school, but the motion was not seconded by a committee member and the discussion continued for more than a half hour.

Smith then moved that Wiscasset Primary School be closed “ subject to the school closure petition process available to the town voters,” which allows the town voters the opportunity to approve of the school closure.

The motion to close the primary school passed 3-2, with members Steve Smith, Eugene Stover and Michael Dunn voting in favor, and Glen Craig and Chelsea Haggett opposed.

The Wiscasset School Committee went directly into executive session after the meeting and were unavailable for further comment.

The committee also declined to sponsor the closure petition and are looking for members of the community to initiate and submit a petition to the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen requesting a special election referendum to close Wiscasset Primary School.

Beverage said that the town has 30 days to file the petition, or the school closure will pass on the committee’s vote, which is a non-binding, advisory vote.

“A binding referendum is the way to go,” said Beverage. “It’s the clean way to go.”

AS OF SEPT. 11, there were 189 students enrolled at the Wiscasset High School — of which approximately 60 tuition in to the school — down from a projected enrollment of more than 200. The middle school has 161 students enrolled and the primary school has 202 students.


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: