Voters in two southern Maine school districts soundly rejected big-ticket school building proposals on Tuesday amid concerns about the projects and their costs to taxpayers, especially in an uncertain economy.

While Cape Elizabeth voters overwhelmingly rejected a $116 million bond issue that would have transformed an aging school campus in the town center, voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth defeated a $73.9 million bond issue aimed at solving a stubborn crowding problem in MSAD 51. Both districts are known for producing top academic results and having strong support for school spending.

Rendering of proposed Cape Elizabeth Middle School entrance Conceptual Design Renderings by Colby Co. Engineering and Simons Architects

In Cape Elizabeth, the referendum failed by a margin of 1,480 votes, with 62% deciding against borrowing money to design, build and equip new elementary and middle schools and renovate the high school. Voters did authorize spending an additional $5 million, to be raised in gifts and grants, to add auditorium seating, solar panels and other upgrades to the new schools, but that vote depended on the bond passing.

Opponents criticized the scale and cost of the project, which if borrowed at 4% for 30 years would have added $1,934 to the annual property tax bill for a home valued at $400,000 for tax purposes – an increase of roughly 25%, according to town officials.

“It’s too large, which is what made it too expensive,” said Mary Ann Lynch, a leader of the opposition. “Some people felt this project never had a budget, and it just grew and grew and grew.”

Lynch said some opponents thought the project should be smaller, some thought it would be more economical and environmentally responsible to renovate the existing elementary and middle schools, and some thought this was the wrong time given rising interest rates and construction costs.


“We hope the council and the school board listen to the voters and take to heart the serious economic and environmental concerns raised about the proposal,” Lynch said.

Cape Superintendent Chris Record acknowledged that many supporters are disappointed with the defeat of a project the district began planning in 2017.

“We are excited to continue to engage in the process to find a solution to our old, inefficient, patchwork, sprawling, cramped and crowded elementary and middle schools,” Record said in a statement. “The need for new schools is still very much a reality for the students and staff of Cape.”

Record said he would work with the Building Oversight Committee, school board and Town Council to consider what the district’s next steps should be.

“I remain optimistic that we will find a solution that will lead to the construction of new schools that will benefit our students, staff and community for the next 50-plus years,” he said.

In a separate statement, school board Chairperson Kimberly Carr said, “Thorough public process led us to conclude we need to build a new middle school and a new elementary school. The results of the referendum do not change that.” Carr said she would continue to collaborate with staff, parents and the wider community “to find a solution to provide our students and staff with modern schools that meet learning needs while being energy efficient and cost conscious.”


A rendering of the proposed elementary school on 80 Gray Road in North Yarmouth. Courtesy MSAD 51

In MSAD 51, the proposal to borrow $73.9 million failed by a margin of 874 votes, with 55% casting ballots against the building plan.

District officials and supporters said the building proposal was 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.

A majority of the funding, $70.3 million, would have gone toward building a new primary school for 732 students in pre-K through second grade; $1.2 million would have bought a 76-acre site at 80 Gray Road in North Yarmouth; and $2.4 million would have renovated Mabel Wilson School in Cumberland.

After the renovations, Mabel Wilson would have housed grades three through five, and Greely Middle School in Cumberland would have housed grades six through eight. The project would have eliminated 21 modular classrooms at Mabel Wilson and seven at the middle school.

Borrowed at an estimated 4% for 20 years, the property tax impact of the MSAD 51 would have been phased in. It was projected to cost $46 per $100,000 of assessed property value in 2026, district officials said. It would have peaked at $920 on a home assessed at $400,000 in 2030, then decreased gradually over the remainder of the bond.



Teri Maloney-Kelly, a Cumberland resident who posted signs against the project, is surprised but pleased that the referendum failed.

“There were a lot of reasons why people opposed the bond,” she said, including the cost, the building site and the planning process.

Lianne Mitchell, who lives near the proposed site in North Yarmouth, said too much was unknown about the project.

“It was too much (money) for the land, and a lack of transparency generally about costs, including easements and land leases that might be necessary,” Mitchell said. “And they’re still in the planning stages, so this seemed like a vote that would have given them permission to spend even more.”

MSAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter and school board Chairperson Jason Record didn’t respond to requests to discuss the referendum’s outcome and what the district’s next steps might be.

While Porter’s letter promoting the primary school project remained posted on North Yarmouth’s municipal website Wednesday, the same letter had become inaccessible on Cumberland’s municipal website, and a web page dedicated to the project had been pulled from the district’s website.

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