The Scarborough Town Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a November referendum on a new school project. From left are Councilors April Sither, John Cloutier, Karin Shupe, Chairperson Jon Anderson, Town Manager Tom Hall, Councilors Don Hamill and Nick McGee. Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina attended the meeting via Zoom. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Scarborough has less than three weeks to reach a new land purchase agreement with The Downs if it wants to put a K-3 consolidated school project on the ballot in November.

An earlier deal to buy nearly 22 acres at The Downs for a new school to alleviate overcrowding in the district fell through last week, but negotiations have continued.

The Town Council, with a Sept. 6 deadline looming for a November referendum, agreed in a preliminary vote Wednesday to send the estimated $160 million project, which includes some middle school renovations, to voters this fall. The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Don Hamill adamantly opposed.

“Moving this forward without a supporting document that shows the details of what it means is just, to me, unconscionable and, frankly, I think it is a gross violation of our duty to the public,” Hamill said.

The council so far has reviewed only drafts of designs for the proposed school.

Chairperson Jon Anderson objected to Hamill’s characterization of the vote.


“Voting on this tonight, I wouldn’t categorize it as a ‘gross violation,'” Anderson said. “I would categorize not doing anything as gross negligence on our part as a body. We have a real challenge and situation with our schools that are in desperate need of a solution.”

The preliminary vote gives the council just enough time to get everything in line ahead of their final vote Sept. 6, but without a land deal in place by then, the school project is unlikely to be on the November ballot.

“If I had to vote tonight whether to (officially) put this on the ballot, I would have to vote ‘no’ just because the land acquisition plan must be settled before we can move forward before the voters,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said.

Without a land deal, “I don’t think this goes anywhere,” said Councilor Nick McGee, “but there’s always time to prove us wrong, so I’m willing to give it the time.”

“We’re going to have a few weeks to try and let the dust settle and figure out if we have a path forward,” Councilor Jon Cloutier said. “I hope we can put this in front of the voters in November.”

Councilors met in an executive session Wednesday on the status of the negotiations.

Crossroads Holdings, The Downs’ developer that owns the land, did not respond to a Forecaster request for comment.

Overcrowding in the school district has been an issue for decades and has required the use of modular classrooms. The project calls for a new K-3 consolidated school which would replace the town’s three K-2 primary schools and remove the third grade from Wentworth School, currently serving grades 3-5. In turn, Wentworth will take on sixth graders to alleviate overcrowding at the middle school.

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