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Bond vote needed to save Otisfield school
OXFORD — SAD 17 district voters may experience sticker shock when they vote on a $1 million bond to address a mold problem in Otisfield Community School, but the bond is actually the cheapest, and most effective, fix for the issue.
"If that vote doesn't pass, then we're not going to be able to keep that school open, and that's going to be a real problem," said SAD 17 Business Manager Cathy Fanjoy-Coffey.
While the price tag may seem steep, district administrators say that any other option will be more expensive. In addition, nearly half of the bond will be forgiven by the state, meaning that the district will not have to pay back all of the borrowed money.
After borrowing $1,012,659, the state will forgive $405,462, leaving the remainder to be paid back by the district. Of the remaining balance, $388,501 will carry a zero percent interest rate.
The district will make annual $56,563 payments for 10 years.
"All of the other options, none of them would be less than that payment, and then we'll have a safe and healthy building that we'll have for a long time," said Fanjoy-Coffey.
She added that the payments would be offset by retiring debt, and so would not result in a direct increase in the district's budget.
The other alternatives to approving the bond would be grim, says Superintendent Rick Colpitts.
Closing the Otisfield school would have a negative impact on the children, and would not save any money, he said.
"[The Otisfield school] really is an essential facility to our district's mission." said Colpitts. "At this point, given enrollment, we project that that school is going to be needed for the next 10 years or more, and that Otisfield's enrollment is going to increase over that period of time. Frankly, it's the most cost-effective way of addressing the issue."
If the school were to close, says Colpitts, Otisfield's 72 students would have to be accommodated in portable units, or worse.
"We would have to bring in portable units to house them at other schools, or we would have subpar facilities to house them if portables weren't available," he said. "When you lease a portable, there's a long-term cost associated with that."
Unlike a repair to the existing school, the cost of portables would have to be borne by the local community, without any state assistance.
Colpitts says that the district, which has been cash-strapped in recent years, has worked hard to keep its facilities open. The board of SAD 44, a neighboring district, just voted to close Andover Elementary School.
"It's a matter of 'where, then, do you put the kids'?" said Colpitts. "The district has a longstanding commitment to try to maintain a school in each community. If this becomes the call, to close that school, it certainly sends a message to seven other communities, and I don't think that that's the message we want to send."
The mold problem came about when flower and vegetable gardens lining the sides of the school building caused moisture to build up on interior walls over a five-year period. Dirt for the plant beds obstructed holes that were needed to preserve proper circulation. The beds were removed last year.
In order to address the resultant mold, which is currently not a threat to the schoolchildren, a large amount of work will need to be done, including the replacement of Sheetrock, metal studs, windows, window seals, and insulation.
The actual construction would be performed by Ganneston Construction of Augusta, at a cost of $818,069. The balance of the bond monies would be spent on architectural engineering and oversight for the project, legal costs, and testing that has been ongoing to ensure the safety of the classrooms during the current school year. A total of $66,000 will also be held to address contingencies.
Contrary to reports in area newspapers, including the Advertiser Democrat, a warrant for the school budget was not approved by the board during a May 2 meeting.
"The budget committee has recommended a budget to the board, and that budget will be presented next Monday," said Colpitts. "The budget committee has not yet presented that to the board."
District administrators said that they were concerned about misrepresentations in news reports, but that they had not received complaints from residents.
The school budget under consideration is $34.65 million, and will be voted on by the board on May 16. After the board vote, there will be a hearing on June 9, which is followed immediately by a vote. A validation referendum will then be held on the 14th, when voters will vote to either approve or reject the budget.