Regional School Unit 5 – intact following a close Freeport vote against withdrawal – will take up some important old business when its board meets on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Durham Community School.

Freeport voters narrowly rejected withdrawing from the school district, 2,228-2,152, Nov. 4.

During the meeting, the board is likely to begin to implement a $14.6 million bond to renovate Freeport High School. The bond, passed last November by voters in Durham, Freeport and Pownal, had been in limbo during withdrawal negotiations.

The board also will elect a new chairman to replace Nelson Larkins of Freeport, who lost his bid for re-election. Kate Brown of Pownal is the vice chairwoman.

Lyndon Peck, an architect with PDT Architects of Portland, will attend the school board meeting. Peck devised the original design for the high school renovation.

“We will enter into a contract for the architect to proceed,” said Bill Michaud, co-superintendent of RSU 5. “The board also will need to reconvene a Building Committee, or elect a new one.”

Michaud said that the project should go out to bid in late June or early July, and construction would begin next fall.

The 20-year bond, in part, would fund a two-story addition to the high school, where the industrial arts building now stands. The new space would contain classrooms, a cafeteria, a kitchen and a band room. It also could be designed to accommodate a third-floor addition for more students – an addition that some people believe is not necessary. As is, Freeport High has a capacity of around 500 students.

Tim Giddinge, chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Pownal, said he hopes the board will reconsider the addition.

“I hope there is some discussion about maybe cooperating with Brunswick or Yarmouth, or somebody, to take some students, so we don’t have to have that expansion,” Giddinge said.

The Brunswick School Department agreed earlier this year that Brunswick High could be the school of guaranteed acceptance for Durham students, in case Freeport voted for withdrawal.

Michaud did not say if the school board could consider a renovation minus the addition, but did say that RSU 5 will not get what it would have a year ago for $14.6 million.

“There’s going to have to be some discussion about what the scope of the project is going to be,” he said. “But the bottom line won’t change.”

Meanwhile, Giddinge said, a process of healing must begin among the three towns that comprise RSU 5. Some withdrawal proponents emphasized that only once in the five-year history of RSU 5 has either Pownal or Durham – in this case Durham – voted in favor of an RSU 5 budget. Others resented the consolidation mandate of the Baldacci administration.

“That should be the school board’s No. 2 priority, behind hiring a new superintendent,” Giddinge said. “They’ve got to find out why this group in Freeport wanted to withdraw so badly, and try to mend it.”

Jeffrey Wakeman, chairman of the Pownal Board of Selectmen, has the same concerns.

“I don’t know,” Wakeman said. “People were very emotionally invested in this. The towns have to work together on the RSU. Now that we know the vote, we can move forward.”

Peter Murray, a school board member and chairman of the Withdrawal Committee, now will refocus on the tasks at hand for RSU 5, including a permanent superintendent to replace Michaud and Michael Lafortune, who are serving for one year as co-superindendents.

It’s time to move forward, Murray said shortly after learning of the vote against withdrawal.

“It has been a long year since Freeport voted to begin the withdrawal process last December,” Murray said. “Over that time, one thing has become clear – that Freeport citizens on both sides of this debate care deeply about education and our town.

“While the vote today settled the governance issue, the close margin between the sides points to the need for continued engagement. Every voter wanted what was best for students and our town, and now the RSU board has the opportunity to continue building on this engagement and ensure that RSU 5 moves ahead to create schools where teachers want to be and where all students can thrive.”

A group calling itself RSU 5 We’re Better Together formed in the weeks leading up to the vote. The group included Kristina Egan, vice chairwoman of the Town Council and the only councilor to oppose withdrawal. Egan provided Tri-Town Weekly with a statement from Better Together.

“The town of Freeport has had a spirited discussion over how best to improve education going forward,” the statement read. “The debate hasn’t been about whether or not to improve education, but how best to do it. Good, thoughtful residents have been on both sides but everyone has had the interest of the kids at heart. We have faith we will come together as a community to work together to build a brighter future for all our kids in the RSU.”

Municipal elections

It would be difficult to ascertain if candidates’ stands on withdrawal played a part in the races for school board or Town Council, in which longtime Councilor Rich DeGrandpre, who served on the Withdrawal Committee, fell by a six-vote margin to challenger Bill Rixon, 276-270. A recount of that vote is tentatively set for 8 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 17.

Rixon is a retired teacher.

Lindsay Sterling, a supporter of withdrawal, garnered the most votes in a four-way race for two vacancies on the school board, but incumbent Beth Parker, who opposed withdrawal, received the second-most votes. Sterling and Parker defeated Chairman Nelson Larkins, who opposed withdrawal, and Charly Haversat Matheson, who was a leading voice in the withdrawal movement.

Sterling won 2,010 votes, and Parker was next with 1,901. Larkins came in third with 1,454 votes while Matheson trailed with 970.

People on their way to the polls on Nov. 4 could hardly help but notice Sally Leland and her husband, Doug, who stood on the corner of Main and Holbrook streets wearing green Sally Leland shirts, and hoisting toilet plungers. Leland earned the most votes, 2,360, in a three-person race for two positions on the Sewer District Trustees. Gerald Kennedy won the other spot with 1,705 votes and Michael Ashby trailed with 1,663 votes.

Statewide, Freeport residents went for Democrat Mike Michaud in the gubernatorial race. Michaud received 2,482 votes in Freeport to 1,720 for Gov. Paul LePage, who won re-election, and 479 for Independent Eliot Cutler.

Susan Collins, who won another term as U.S. senator, defeated Democrat Shenna Bellows 2,797-1,831 in Freeport. Chellie Pingree was elected to another term in Congress as she got 2,922 votes to 1,234 for Republican Isaac Musiuk and 359 for Richard Murphy, an independent.

On the bear-baiting referendum, Freeport voted yes, 2,718-1,894.

Lindsay Sterling, at the polls on Nov. 4 at Freeport High School, was the top vote-getter in a four-way race for a seat on the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors. Bill Rixon defeated longtime incumbent Rich DeGrandpre by six votes in the only contested race for the Freeport Town Council. DeGrandpre, however, is asking for a recount.  

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