Saco City Council and School Board met Feb. 7 to discuss the city’s ongoing school construction project. Eloise Goldsmith photo

SACO — Saco is under a tight timeline to get a much anticipated school construction project on the June 11 ballot.

For the current project plan to move forward, voters must approve two bond issues to fund the new school campus, which will consist of a new school building for pre-K and kindergarten students and a second school building for students grades one through five.

The campus will be located on a plot of land between Mill Brook Road and Route 1 that borders the Eastern Trail.

The vast majority of the Grade 1-5 school will be state funded, and the pre-K and kindergarten school will be locally funded — though the total price tag for the project is still unknown.

That number will be finalized if the State Board of Education signs off on the concept approval for the project in April, according to Saco Schools attorney Bill Stockmeyer, who spoke at a joint School Board and City Council meeting Feb. 7.

Saco Schools Superintendent Jeremy Ray said that the school department was recommending that for “full transparency” the funding for the two schools be split into two ballot questions, though the City Council, which has the final say on what goes on the June 11 ballot, does have the option to combine them into one.


Because there must be two separate bond issue requests for the two buildings, it makes sense to split them, said Stockmeyer.

Some expressed reservations about splitting the project into two ballot questions.

If split in two, the ballot question for the locally funded pre-K and kindergarten school will likely be a harder sell to voters, said Councilor Marshall Archer. He asked Superintendent Ray what the Plan B is if that question fails. Ray indicated that the school department would be left with less than optimal options to house pre-k and kindergarten students if the request to borrow failed.

“I’m picturing myself at the ballot with my two little kids, I just got out of work … And if I wasn’t a part of this, I’d be sitting there thinking, ‘this looks like an either/or to me,’” said School Board Member Arthur Archie.

A plan of the first floor of the proposed grades 1-5 building. The city is working with the firm Oak Point Associates to design the buildings. Eloise Goldsmith photo

“I understand wanting transparency, and we have to have it. But we really can’t afford to lose either one. So I would be in favor of doing a one ballot,” he said.

Councilor Nathan Johnston said he was a firm believer in having the funding broken into two questions and giving voters the option to vote in favor of one and against the other. He said he did not want to tank the plan to use state funding to build the one school building because voters are less receptive to the locally funded pre-K and kindergarten school building.


While the council still has time to make a final decision on the ballot question, the school department and the city are on an extremely tight timeline to put the project on the June ballot.

Stockmeyer told councilors and School Board members that state subsidized projects are better suited for school districts that are not governed by city council-style municipalities, which have a longer process for approving a bond issue that includes public hearings.

Besides constraints related to the city charter, the group faces a logistical hurdle. “Everyone seems to use the same company to print ballots, and the company gets way backed up … if we can’t print the ballots in time then we’re kind of stuck,” Stockmeyer said.

For these reasons, the city must hold a first reading on the bonds on April 10 to allow time to hold a public hearing two weeks after. That’s the same day that the state board is expected to issue concept approval for the project, and the same day that the city clerk must submit the ballot question or questions to the vendor.

A City Council meeting with a public hearing about the school project funding is planned to take place April 29.

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