Residents in Cumberland and North Yarmouth will vote on a $73.9 million bond referendum on Nov. 8 to build a new elementary school. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A $73.9 million bond referendum for a new elementary school in SAD 51 is riling some residents in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

Many agree that a solution is needed for the crowded Mabel Wilson School, where 14 modular classrooms accommodate 762 students in a building constructed for 550. But many also question a plan that would add as much as $920 to the annual property tax bill for a home assessed at $400,000.

Some are angry and scared that it will price lower-income residents out of town.

Teri Maloney-Kelly, a community volunteer and activist who grew up in Cumberland, is so worried that she had 30 lawn signs printed up that say “VOTE NO TO MSAD 51 – TOO CO$TLY.” When other residents saw her signs around town, they asked if she had any extras, so she ordered 10 more. She believes the $400 she spent on the signs is worth it.

“I was trying to get people engaged,” she said. “It’s just too much money and I don’t think we need it.”

There were no “vote yes” lawn signs visible in town last week, but district officials and supporters say the building proposal is a necessary, responsible, energy-efficient answer to a crowding problem that will only get worse and grow more costly if it’s not addressed soon.


The SAD 51 board of directors voted 9-0 to put the referendum on the ballot and set aside $5 million to soften the annual tax impact of the bond issue, according to district documents. The impact also would be phased in, starting at a projected $46 per $100,000 of assessed property value in 2026. It would peak at $920 on a home assessed at $400,000 in 2030, then decrease gradually over the remainder of the 20-year bond.

“This process started a few years ago and this is the third attempt at finding a suitable solution to the growing enrollment,” said Jason Record, SAD 51 board chairperson. “It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and throw stones. It’s really hard to please everybody.”


Teri Maloney-Kelly of Cumberland with one of the 40 ‘Vote No’ signs she had made. She is opposed to the $73.9 million referendum to build a new elementary school because “it’s just too much money.”  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


The SAD 51 bond issue is one of three school building proposals on local ballots Nov. 8, including bond issues in Cape Elizabeth and Gorham.

Cost also is a concern in Cape Elizabeth, where voters are being asked to fund a controversial $116 million proposal to design, build and equip new elementary and middle schools, and to renovate Cape Elizabeth High School. The money would be borrowed at 4% interest for 30 years.


The Cape proposal would add $1,934 to the annual property tax bill on a $400,000 home – a 25% increase that has stirred some opposition among residents and divided town councilors 4-3 when they voted to put it on the November ballot.

While many agree Cape’s aging school buildings are in dire need of attention, others question the cost when the student population has fallen steadily over the last 10 years, from 1,647 in 2013 to 1,485 in 2022, state records show. School officials reported an influx of 43 students this year from families moving into town.

The Cape Council also voted 6-1 to put a second question on the ballot to authorize spending an additional $5 million, to be raised in gifts and grants, for more auditorium seating, solar panels and other upgrades to the new elementary and middle schools.

Gorham voters are being asked to authorize borrowing $10.5 million for three projects: $5.8 million to complete the expansion of modular classrooms at Narragansett Elementary School; and $4.3 million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades and $423,000 for LED lighting at Gorham High School. The money would be borrowed at 2.85% interest for 10 years.

In Cumberland, the $73.9 million would be borrowed at an estimated 4% for 20 years. That includes $70.3 million to build a new school for 732 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade; and $1.2 million to buy 76 acres behind 80 Gray Road in North Yarmouth, where they plan to build the new school.

The remaining $2.4 million would be used to continue renovating Mabel Wilson School to house grades 3-5 and remove seven modular classrooms at Greely Middle School, which currently includes grades 5-8. In June, voters accepted $1.5 million in state funding to upgrade Mabel Wilson’s exterior doors, windows, ventilation and security.


If the 21 modular classrooms were removed from Mabel Wilson and the middle school, the district would save $335,000 in annual lease payments and free up much needed playground area and other open space, district officials said.

But that’s not enough of a dent for some voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, who question everything from the cost of the building site on Gray Road to enrollment projections that anticipate an additional 307 students by 2032.

Carolina Marles, with her son Porter, of Cumberland, says she hasn’t made up her mind about the $73.9 million referendum for the new elementary school. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Other “vote no” lawn signs scattered around town disputed enrollment projections. Opponents point to previous enrollment studies that informed the district’s decisions to close the Downe Road School in 2011 and the North Yarmouth Memorial School in 2014.

And they object to buying 76 acres when only 5 acres would be used for the school and the rest would be protected for open space and recreation. The current owner is A.H. Grover, an excavation and construction company located in North Yarmouth that bought the property in June 2021 for $750,000, town records show.

Foes of the bond sense a lack of transparency in what school officials have done so far and they question going ahead with the project when supply chain disruptions, inflation, rising interest rates and worker shortages threaten to push costs even higher.


“Everything adds up. We don’t need the burden of doing it now,” said Kaitlynn Bell of North Yarmouth, who has three children in Greely schools. She believes school crowding should be addressed but wants the district to pursue a more modest proposal.

Sean McCloy of Cumberland is one voter who supports the project wholeheartedly.

“It’s a big expense, but I think it’s worth it for the town,” said McCloy, who has two boys in Greely schools. “The town is growing and this is part of the growing pains.”

Sean McCloy of Cumberland with his sons Forrest 9, and Duncan, 7, says he supports the project because the town is growing. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Carolina Marles is among those who haven’t made up their minds. She’s heard the opposition, but she thinks district officials have done a great job trying to keep people informed.

“I’m 50-50 on it right now,” said Marles, whose son attends Mabel Wilson School. “A lot of people are concerned about the cost.”



It’s a sensitive issue in the district, based on the comments of people who said they were opposed but didn’t want to be named in this story. Early voting has begun and residents were dropping off ballots at Cumberland Town Hall this week.

“It’s too much money at the wrong time,” one man said gruffly after voting against it. He declined to give his name because, he said, “I don’t want to be blackballed” by the community.

If the referendum fails, the district still will have to educate a growing student enrollment, said Record, the board chairperson.

“It will include more modulars, likely further impacting traffic, parking and play space on the campus,” he said. “The additional cost of these modulars will be substantial.”

Record said school staff and students have been highly adaptive so far, but it’s liable to take a greater toll over time.

“At some point, it will affect staff morale and retention, as well as student morale,” Record said. “The question is not whether we need more space and the question is not who wants a higher tax bill. The question is whether we should make an investment in our community to solve a need.”

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