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Otisfield Selectmen mull building issues
OTISFIELD — Selectmen met with SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts at their December 1 meeting to review issues of concern regarding the community school.
Colpitts was able to begin, however, with comments about the most recent state valuation and budget projections, which indicate that the town's share of the tax burden from the school district would drop slightly within the next three years.
He added that there are no plans for the district to close the Otisfield Community School because the projections for population change indicate that the school will undergo an increase of about 30 percent, from 75 to 100 students. There is no other building in the district that can absorb the increased of 100 students in addition to its present enrollment, Colpitts said.
However, two more pressing issues were raised concerning the health and safety of students and teachers at Otisfield Community School.
In their recent sessions, the selectmen had discussed concerns about the absence of safety signs and crosswalks at the school. This had been communicated to Colpitts and he said he had looked into the matter further, by consulting with Western District Traffic Engineer Gene Uhuad, of the Maine Department of Transportation.
Uhuad responded by memo, which Colpitts shared with the selectmen, putting to rest some of the criticism. The school district could, at its expense, arrange to place flashing warning lights advising drivers of the presence of the school and the lower speed limit, which would only be used for a period an hour before, during, and an hour after classes on days the school was in session. The engineer said the cost would run between $20,000 and $25,000 for two lights (one for each direction).
The superintendent suggested that it is very unlikely the school board would approve that expenditure.
The MDOT engineer suggested that the old, unlit, flat signs do need to be replaced with similar flat, unlit ones. MDOT will pay for that. He also pointed out that the school's location, on a road that has no sidewalks, and a general speed limit more than 35 miles per hour, does not qualify it for a crosswalk under state traffic rules. He suggested that parents should be discouraged from picking up and dropping off students while stopping in the roadway or opposite the school, but pointed out that arranging a more appropriate location would be most desirable.
The selectmen also asked Colpitts about reports they'd heard about an unusual number of severe headaches among students and teachers.
The superintendent said that an environmental consultant, hired by the district, could not scientifically discern any difference between the air inside and outside the building - an indication that air quality was not the issue. Colpitts also said research seemed to indicate that there were not significantly more headaches reported at Otisfield Community than other comparable schools. He did not doubt people are having headaches, he said, but they are not apparently related to air quality, nor are there more of them there than elsewhere.
Still, there is a mold problem, and dealing with it may be very expensive. By Colpitts's rough, preliminary estimate, it will cost the school district between $930,000 and $1.25 million to remove all of the sheetrock from the building's exterior and abutting walls; remove the insulation and the sheathing, leaving only the brick face of the school intact; then filling the space with blown-in foam insulation that resists mold growth and installing new sheetrock. The same consultant is drawing up specifications for the refitting.
Colpitts said the issue would go to the voters as a referendum question this spring, and would hopefully enable the school district to begin work as soon as classes end in the summer, and be finished for school-opening in the fall.