A state Board of Education committee on Friday declined a request by Bath-area school officials to recommend emergency funding this year to rebuild an elementary school heavily damaged in a fire.

The board’s School Construction Committee said the state is already near the $150 million debt service limit for other school construction projects.

“We should not approve something that we do not know for sure could be funded,” said Fern Desjardins, chairperson of both the committee and the Board of Education.

Regional School Unit 1’s Dike Newell School in Bath was set on fire by an arsonist last year, police said. The fire damaged about 60% of the building. The school’s roughly 225 pre-kindergarten through second grade students were moved to temporary classrooms at the former Bath Regional Career and Technical Center on High Street.

The committee recommended RSU 1 officials apply for state aid to rebuild the school in the next Major Capital School Construction program rating cycle, which is set to receive applications next year and be finalized in 2025. The committee also recommended that the Board of Education advance the program’s timeline. The board will consider those recommendations at its next meeting July 12.

The Dike Newell School in Bath after a fire broke out June 10, 2022. Maria Skillings / The Times Record file photo

The last rating cycle was completed in 2018, and the Dike Newell School was ranked 50th out of 74 schools proposed for replacement. RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said he hoped the school would be ranked in the top five in the next rating cycle due to the fire. Without state aid, Manuel said rebuilding the school would be a “tougher sell” to district communities that would have to pay for it with local tax dollars.


Committee member Kristin Bishop said the board has to honor existing school construction projects.

“I’m trying to find other pools of money that just aren’t there,” Bishop said. “We’re working with some limited dollars.”

Lawmakers are currently reviewing a bill that would increase the debt service limit for school construction projects by $100 million; committee members said if that plan is approved, the board could consider emergency funding to rebuild the Dike Newell School as early as next year.

Manuel said the district has received about $7 million in insurance money to rebuild the school. School officials’ preference is to build a new elementary school that would combine the Dike Newell School and Bath’s Fisher Mitchell School, which serves about 200 students in grades three through five. Fisher Mitchell was ranked 22nd for replacement in the state’s 2018 rating cycle.

“In the big picture, we’d love to consolidate,” Manuel said.

Without emergency funding, it could take years for the Board of Education to consider aid to rebuild the Dike Newell School — and only if it ranks high enough in the next rating cycle. Of the 74 schools included in the 2018 rating cycle, the board only designated seven for aid, and approval for the last of those schools was made in 2022.

“This is a slow-moving train,” Desjardins said.

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