Erica Keay works with two students in small group academic support at Eight Corners Primary School in Scarborough. Last fall, the school district proposed a $160 million bond to address overcrowding and get rid of old buildings. The bond failed at the ballot box. The district is figuring out how to create a plan that voters will approve. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

SCARBOROUGH — Principal Anne Lovejoy was disappointed, but not shocked, when the school district’s request to take out a $160 million bond to renovate the town’s aging and overcrowded schools was shot down at the ballot box last fall.

This community isn’t known for supporting things the first time they come up on a ballot,” she said as she walked through the halls of Eight Corners Primary School, which was built in 1959. 

The district had asked voters last November to take out the bond, which is similar to a loan, to build a new elementary school to serve all of the district’s K-3 students and modernize other facilities.

The taxpayers responded with a strong no, with 5,913 people voting against and 3,363 in support.

Scarborough is far from the only school district that has taken a bond proposal to voters only to see it fail out of concern of rising taxes.

In 2022, voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth rejected a proposed $73.9 million bond to build a new primary school because many said the cost was too high. The district had hoped to buy a 76-acre piece of land in North Yarmouth to build a new pre-K through second grade school. It also would have funded renovations at the Mabel Wilson School so it could remove modular classrooms.


But the bond would have increased the average tax bill by about $920 – a figure that prompted a communitywide campaign to vote it down.

Two other school bond proposals were also on the ballot that fall, aimed at addressing aging buildings and overcrowding. In Cape Elizabeth, voters soundly rejected a $116 million bond to build and equip elementary and middle schools, and to renovate the high school.

Gorham, however, approved a $10.5 million bond that in part will pay to finish expanding modular classrooms at one of its elementary schools.

Without a bond, there are few alternative paths toward funding large construction projects. Most district’s annual budgets can barely fund daily costs – paying teachers, administrators and staff, buying supplies and equipment, and otherwise keeping the lights on – and have no room to pay for renovations or new construction.

Students walk the halls between classes at Scarborough Middle School on April 3. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

For small projects, schools can compete for a limited pool of partially forgivable, 0% interest loans from the state that are given out every year. For large projects, schools can apply for grants that are awarded every five years.

For both of these options, the waitlist is long and the funding is limited. The state only has about $150 million to give to large projects each year.


Last year, the Maine Department of Education received over 100 requests for small updates to various school buildings such as improving accessibility, air quality, security and physical building structure. Less than a quarter were approved.

In the most recent cycle for major renovations, 74 schools applied. Nine were granted funding. The next round of major project funding is set to be confirmed by the end of 2025.

Because there is such strong competition for state funding, schools are often left to wait until they are on their very last leg before receiving funding.

In 2022, the department of education added Oxford Hills’ Agnes Gray Elementary School to its list of schools to prioritize replacing and targeted it for replacement in 2030.

But that was too late. Agnes Gray had to shut down midyear after it was found uninhabitable because of a variety of safety issues.

The Agnes Gray Elementary School on Main Street in West Paris was built in 1895. It was approved by the Maine Department of Education to be replaced in 2022 but the school’s condition forced it to close midyear. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat, file

The school, built in the late 1800s, had inadequate fire protection and functional emergency exits, as well as outdated and poorly functioning plumbing and electrical systems – serious problems that would cost $4.5 million and several years to fix, according to The Bethel Citizen.


The district had long planned to build a new school in West Paris and put off budgeting for maintenance at Agnes Gray, the newspaper reported.


Scarborough Middle School Principal Kathy Tirrell said her primary concern when the bond failed was how much longer it would take to get students out of portable classrooms.

Scarborough’s schools, like many in the state, have long been overcrowded. The district has been using portable classrooms for around 25 years. Today, 30% of students learn in portables, which are structurally similar to mobile homes.

Students eat lunch at Scarborough Middle School in April. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Cumberland’s bond would have allowed them to remove 21 portable classrooms at Mabel Wilson and Greely Middle School and prepare for growth. At the time, the district expected to enroll about 300 more students by 2032.

Gorham’s bond took another tactic toward addressing the crowding question. It gave the district money to finish an expansion of modular classrooms at Narragansett Elementary School.


Scarborough expects that the overcrowding will only get worse in the years to come. It estimates that the student population will rise from its current 2,809 to as much as 3,600 by the 2032-33 school year, school board Chair Shannon Lindstrom said.

Now, Scarborough is regrouping to try to get a new bond approved as soon as next summer. The committee has not yet come up with a new proposal and does not know what the cost of the bond might be.   

Students walk down the hall inside the portable area at Eight Corners Primary School. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The district says it is trying to build trust with the community and come up with a plan that a majority of voters will get behind.

Cumberland has already decided to bring another bond measure to voters this summer.

The school board voted this month to put a $53.5 million bond on the June ballot, a significant scaling back from its original plan.

If approved, it will pay for a new pre-K through first grade school on the Greely campus, in addition to a $3 million turf field at the high school, new maintenance buildings and four additional classrooms and updates to the Mabel Wilson School.



On the surface, the 65-year-old Eight Corners Primary School doesn’t look like it’s in horrible shape. Some of the classrooms have nice, large windows. Student artwork hangs in the hallway. But it has had to adapt, and many spaces are used for more than one function.

The gymnasium is used for before-school care and breakfast, lunch and any special events, all in addition to its primary function as a gym.

Shannon Lindstrom, the chair of Scarborough’s school board, stands in a classroom at Eight Corners Primary School. The school district is trying to figure out how to create a plan to update the district’s schools that have become crowded and have little space. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Storage space is sparse. Students’ coats are lined up on hooks in the halls, classroom shelves are stacked ceiling-high with materials, and part of one student bathroom is being used as a makeshift storage space.

Classroom space is also limited. The art and music teacher share a classroom, so they can’t leave their materials in the room and have to cart them around. There aren’t any classrooms for students who need services like speech therapy to go to for academic support, so that work happens in the hallway.

Next year, the room that currently holds printers and copiers will become a special education classroom, and the copiers and printers will move to the crowded hall.


In 2019 and 2020, to deal with some of the space issues, the district brought in 10 portable classrooms. Six are directly attached to the main building, and four are accessible via a short outdoor path. More than 50% of students at Eight Corners are based in those portables, which have low ceilings, narrow hallways and florescent lights.

The failed $160 million bond would have consolidated the district’s three K-3 primary schools in one new building, moved the entire sixth grade to one of the current elementary schools, and renovated Scarborough Middle School, a newer building that was constructed 26 years ago with hard-to-come-by state funds. But it’s significantly over capacity. The entire sixth grade is based in portable classrooms and has been since 2016.

A table where students can gather sits in a locker bay inside the sixth-grade portable at Scarborough Middle School. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

At the time, those in favor of the project said it was a cost-effective plan that would benefit students. Those opposed said it was too expensive.

Scarborough district leaders and employees said they were disappointed to see the bond fail. But now they’re back to work trying to get as many people in support as possible.

The school board created a committee that is open to any Scarborough residents to make recommendations. There are over 50 people serving on the committee, said Nicholas McGee, a member of the Town Council who serves on the group.

The committee is working to answer community questions, double-check information consultants provided to the board and better understand why the community voted the bond down last time.

“The goal of this committee is to bring the public along every step of the way and come up with a conclusion we can support when it goes to ballot next time,” McGee said.

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