At the RSU 40 Facilities Committee meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, members of the RSU 40 Board of Directors discussed next steps for funding necessary maintenance at the district’s aging facilities and improving their relationship with the community after an $81 million bond proposed to cover maintenance and upgrades was quashed by voters earlier this month.
“When the (Medomak Valley High School) septic tank starts to leak, when this roof fails and something else fails at the same time, what are we going to do? … This is an untenable situation,” said board member Matthew Speno, of Union.
The board discussed the implications of the high voter turnout and sound defeat of the bond proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot. Across the district’s five towns, residents voted against the measure 1,537-393 in Waldoboro; 415-139 in Friendship; 1,023-353 in Warren; 416-184 in Washington, and 775-296 in Union, according to unofficial results.
“We had record turnout for an off year … we turned out thousands of voters who do not come out in off years, who came just to vote against the bond,” said board member Noah Botley, of Washington. “I think another bond right now is extremely irresponsible.”
“We must regain trust before we even think about putting (another proposal) together,” said board member Joshua Blackman, of Warren.
Some select board members from towns in the RSU 40 district were in attendance at the facilities committee meeting, including Waldoboro Select Board members Robert Butler and John Blodgett, as well as Waldoboro Town Manager Julie Keizer.
“The public feels that you don’t care and that you’re out of touch,” Keizer told the school board. “It’s tough out there.”
According to Keizer, over 150 Waldoboro families needed food baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and over 200 children are being supplied with coats, boots, and toys by the town.
Sandra O’Farrell, who represents Waldoboro on the RSU 40 Board of Directors, said that she understood taxpayers’ concerns but believed that some compromise must occur in order to provide for the children of the district.
“The bottom line is that we’re responsible for these kids. We’re responsible for their safety,” O’Farrell said. “We also need to be fiscally responsible … that’s what we have to do. I don’t want to add money to my taxes, but I also know that I have an obligation to the children in this district.”
In regard to possible next steps for RSU 40 facilities, Facilities Director Brian Race discussed the importance of finding ways to continue making improvements. Aging facilities, he said, make it more probable that sudden issues – like roof and equipment failures – arise, incurring significant costs for the district and eating into the facilities operating budget.
Race also discussed the possibility that the district will receive funding from the state’s revolving renovation fund, which provides loans to school districts for certain kinds of projects at 0% interest and with an automatic 50% forgiveness which can be increased up to 70% or 80%, reducing the burden on the town.
The district has applications pending for five $2 million loans to cover two ventilation projects at Friendship Village School, one ventilation project at Miller School and one at Union Elementary School, as well as asbestos abatement at MVHS.
However, Race stressed that the capital available in the revolving renovation fund for the entire state of Maine totals only $29 million, making it unlikely that all the projects submitted by RSU 40 will be approved.
“On a positive note, having the full packet submitted certainly puts us in a good position,” Race said.
The district should hear back about the status of their applications in February.
Race said he is also working on a grant application with Holly Doe, RSU 40 director of technology, to cover automation and security improvements at the schools.
O’Farrell requested that Race compile a list of the top 10 priorities that have to be done in the schools to allow the board to prioritize and begin to find alternate routes to complete the most pressing projects at their next meeting.
“There’s no way of getting out from underneath this” except for beginning to make improvements, said Speno. “Now we have to have these hard conversations. We have to think outside the box.”
The next meeting of the RSU 40 Board of Directors will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday Dec. 7 at the RSU 40 central office at 1070 Heald Highway in Union. For more information, call 785-2277 or go to rsu40.org.