CASCO — For the third time in less than four years, voters will head to the polls to vote on a renovation project for Crooked River Elementary School in Casco.

Residents in Casco, Bridgton and Naples will cast their ballot for the nearly $9 million project on March 19.

Voters previously shot down a $9.6 million renovation proposal in December 2015 and a $7.8 million proposal in April 2016.

The renovation will involve significant upgrades to the existing structure to bring it up to code as well as the construction of a two-story addition and the installation of a fire sprinkler system.

The project would address issues of overcrowding at Songo Locks School in Naples, which is using 13 modular classrooms to fit all of its students. The facility was built over 30 years ago to house about 360 students, yet enrollment is 460.

“We have to do programming according to the needs of the building, not what the kids need,” said SAD 61 School Board Chairwoman Janice Barter.

Overcrowding will get worse in the next year or so as new state mandates require classrooms for pre-kindergarten students as well as child development services (3- to 4-year olds with significant needs.)

“We won’t have any space for them. If this (referendum) doesn’t pass, a year from now we’re going to end up putting in another set of portables,” said SAD 61 Superintendent Alan Smith.

If the referendum passes, Crooked River would serve students in grades 3 through 5, while pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 would remain at Songo Locks.

Crooked River was built in 1985 and closed in 2009 to cut costs. The building is currently used for Adult Education and Special Services.

The renovation project would be financed through a 20-year bond, and the school board will ask voters to approve the use of $1,000,000 of capital reserve monies for this project, which would decrease the final bonding cost to just under $8 million.

But the renovation will not raise taxes because the district will retire its debt payments from two previous construction projects (the Lake Region Middle School addition with athletic fields and the Stevens Brook Elementary School), and there will be an annual savings from no longer leasing the portables.

This time, Sebago will not be included in the vote. The town voted in November 2017 to withdraw from SAD 61 and create its own district, while sending students to the middle and high schools on a tuition basis.

Barter said much opposition to the previous two proposals came from Sebago, which “campaigned against the project.”

“Sebago felt that their school building was old and that we should be renovating that before we did anything to alleviate the overcrowding at Songo Locks School,” she said.

If the referendum passes, Barter said she hopes to have students in the building in the fall of 2020.

Estimating the district’s projected growth, she said the proposed Crooked River project should be adequate for up to 20 years.

“That’s really what it’s about, making a sustainable project to account for growth and also the educational needs of the kids,” she explained.

Smith feels confident that the referendum will pass on its third try.

“It’s just a different feel this time,” he said, and the project is “just a wonderful long-term investment for the Lakes region community.”

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected]

If renovated, Crooked River Elementary School would house grades 3 through 5.

Casco, Bridgton and Naples will cast their votes March 19.

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