The Maine Board of Education on Wednesday declined a request by Bath-area school officials to appropriate emergency state aid this year for the Dike Newell Elementary School, which was heavily damaged in a fire last year.

The board did, however, recommend advancing the timeline for the next round of school construction bids for state aid, which could help Regional School Unit 1’s goal of constructing a consolidated school that would house elementary students from Dike Newell School and Fisher Mitchell School on a faster schedule.

The board’s School Construction Committee earlier this month said the state is already near the $150 million debt service limit for other school construction projects. Of the 74 school projects in the latest Major Capital School Construction program, the board designated only the top seven for state aid based on a ranking system. Dike Newell ranked 50th and Fisher Mitchell ranked 22nd in the latest ratings, which were released in 2018.

“We have a lot of needs in our school system; we have such great need for school construction,” board Chairperson Fern Desjardins said. “No matter what the debt ceiling is, we cannot meet those needs at this time.”

The board’s goal was to complete the next school construction ratings by the spring of 2026; members agreed on Wednesday to work to move that timeline up by six months to accommodate expected applications from RSU 1 and Maine School Administrative District 33, whose Dr. Levesque School burned down an electrical fire in 2021.

The fire at Dike Newell, which police said was set by an arsonist, destroyed about 60% of the school, according to RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel. He previously said he expected Dike Newell would be ranked in the top five in the next construction ratings, which would likely qualify it for state aid.


Dike Newell’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 and will stay there for the foreseeable future. Fisher Mitchell has about 200 students in grades 3-5.

RSU 1 was awarded $11.4 million in insurance payouts from Liberty Mutual after the Dike Newell fire. Manuel said part of that sum was paid to outside vendors and to renovate and outfit the temporary classrooms, leaving about $7 million for rebuilding the school.

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

School officials said the temporary classrooms are inadequate, as the center’s boiler heating system is out-of-date and its proximity to busy High Street creates safety concerns for the younger students.

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

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