Scarborough residents vote Tuesday at the high school, electing three town councilors and weighing in on the new school referendum, which failed 5,913 to 3,364. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

A day after Scarborough voters jettisoned a $160 million proposal for a new school, the Town Council said it will work to determine the key reasons why it was so resoundingly rejected before launching another plan.

“To say that people were just rejecting everything, I think, is incorrect,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said at a council meeting Wednesday.

The plan for a consolidated K-3 school at The Downs to alleviate overcrowding in the district was rejected at the polls Tuesday 5,913 to 3,364.

Project opponents in the months leading up to the vote cited several reasons to reject the proposal, including the price tag and resulting property tax increases. Some residents preferred keeping the three neighborhood K-2 schools and building a fourth to address overcrowding. Others opposed the creation of an access road in the Sawyer Road neighborhood.

Town councilors at a meeting Wednesday recognized those reasons for opposition, but said they want to determine which was most prominent and uncover any other objections.

“Now is the time to reflect, listen and learn from the community on where we go from here,” Council Chairman Jon Anderson said in an email to The Forecaster Wednesday.


SMARTaxes, a residents group that advocates for responsible taxes in Scarborough, said Wednesday it commends the work and intention that went into the proposal, but voters’ message was clear.

“The combination of the three issues of excessive cost, closure of the neighborhood schools and disruption of the Sawyer Road neighborhood led to the significant public opposition to the project. We hope that town and school leadership will take the clear message of the vote as a call to investigate creative and affordable ways to meet the school facility needs as Scarborough continues to grow,” the group said in an email to The Forecaster.

The school department said in a statement to residents Wednesday that community engagement will be a priority in finding a permanent solution the community will support. In the meantime, it said, it will find “an emergency temporary solution to house our growing student population until a long-term solution is determined.” The district already has 30 portable classrooms in place.

The council on Wednesday also discussed the option agreement with The Downs to pay $16 million for 22 acres for the school and surrounding infrastructure. The agreement is valid through December 2024, so the site could still be the location of a new school proposal.

Councilor Don Hamill remains opposed to the land deal and argued the town should take a 90-day break to reflect on the failed proposal before launching another plan. He also questioned whether the council could move forward with the land deal, which requires the town to pay $25,000 a month until the purchase is made or the land option expires. Roughly $16 million of the $160 million rejected by voters was to be spent on the land and surrounding infrastructure.

“The money’s not ours,” Hamill said. “If we were told, ‘you don’t get any money’ yesterday, spending any more money on this, no matter what amount, that’s going to be a problem.”


Councilor April Sither said impact fees could be used for at least some of the $25,000 monthly payments. Closing on the purchase itself would require money approved by voters.

Councilors said they won’t move forward immediately on some of the land option requirements, such as zoning adjustments and a credit enhancement agreement and TIF district for The Downs. Taking too much time, however, would put them out of compliance with the agreement and could result in the land deal being canceled. Even if a new school is not located there, the 22 acres potentially could be used for other municipal purposes, such as for a community center. If the deal does fall through, the town would have the option to buy a smaller portion of the 22-acre site, which could be used for recreational fields, for example.

Outgoing Councilor John Cloutier advised the Town Council to use the failed $160 million project as a learning experience.

“The proposal for the school that came forward, it solved all of our problems,” Cloutier said. “When you solve a problem there’s usually a counterbalance effect, there’s some negative baggage that comes with it. So, when you try to solve all your problems all at once, there was a lot of baggage that came with that solution.”

Comments are not available on this story.