SAD 51’s decision to pay a North Yarmouth landowner for an extended option on his property has been called “a slap in the face” after voters in November rejected plans to build a new elementary school there.

The Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district will reimburse Ben Grover for his annual property taxes on the 76-acre site at 80 Gray Road for up to five years to keep it available for a new school, according to district officials. The amount of the annual payment was unavailable before The Forecaster’s deadline. If the school project had passed this fall, the district would have paid Grover $1.2 million for the land.

Voters in the two towns defeated a proposed $73.9 million bond for a new school at the site, 4,443 to 3,596.

Lianne Mitchell of North Yarmouth said she felt blindsided by an email Superintendent Jeff Porter sent out informing residents in the district of the extended option agreement.

“We voted this down. We said no, we don’t want the school there,” Mitchell said.

She said the school board should never have agreed to the extension.


“My issue is with the school board, who is being so careless with our money and basically slapping us in the face with this deal,” she said.

A new school is needed to address overcrowding in the district, school officials say. After the defeat at the polls in November, Porter said the district’s priority is to develop short-term plans to combat space issues, including adding more modular classrooms. Those plans will be rolled out this winter, he said.

A major concern of opponents to the school project on the ballot was the size of the property. Opponents said it was unnecessarily large when only 5 acres would be used for the school and the rest would be protected for open space and recreation.

“Many schools in Maine are built on large parcels,” Porter said in an interview with The Forecaster. “This is not unusual.”

Mitchell, who is a neighbor to the property, said the size of the lot and its cost were among her reasons for opposing the project, along with the potential impact on wetlands in the area.

“What kind of a lesson is that for these kids?” Mitchell said. “We’re going to disturb more of the land for your future, but you’ll have a shiny new school.”


Other SAD 51 residents who spoke out against the school project in the fall declined to comment.

School board Chairperson Jason Record also declined to be interviewed for this story and instead issued a written statement to The Forecaster.

The purchase option on the land is necessary because the district currently has no better site in mind for a new school, he said, and the school board acted responsibly in extending the option.

“We haven’t finalized the schedule for another potential new school yet. The one thing we have done at this point is that we have an option on the same North Yarmouth parcel again for up to five years,” Record said in his statement. “The previous option would have expired at the end of November and without a better option available, we opted to keep that door open for now.”

Record said the district can “exit the option if we don’t need that parcel, but the board felt it would be irresponsible to let that get away until we have something better.”

A new referendum on a new school is “likely one to three or more years away and some of that variability will be determined by whether we wait and try for the state funding, which is a long-shot and would add two years,” he said. The timeline is also impacted by “the financial uncertainty in our country right now” and “it may be wise to wait a year or more,” he added.

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