The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District school committee and board of trustees moved forward Feb. 11 with Lavallee and Brensinger’s master plan concept design phase. The two panels met jointly over Zoom to discuss and vote on Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Keith Laser’s recommendations which also included accepting unconditional donations to fund the approximately $2.5 million phase, establishing a building committee which will solicit an architectural firm and, after the design is done, set a CSD-wide referendum.
The panels explored the master plan concept design which envisions a renovated Boothbay Region Elementary School with significant construction and a demolished high school. Some questioned the need to eliminate the BRHS building, while others questioned the project’s timing. All agreed on the importance of mapping out a clear future for education in the Boothbay region.
Trustee Kevin Anthony said the architects’ grading of the BRHS building as a “D” was accurate, that it is much like a car with 250,000 miles on it with everything starting to go. However, Trustee Richard Hallinan said the report's assessment of BRHS's condition was a little misleading as certain items like the roof and heating have been dealt with in part over about the last 15 years. “We just spent $250,000 four years ago on the roof ... and the heating system … in 2005 or 2006. As far as I know, that's still working good … We ought to take that step forward, but I just don't think the high school is as bad as it was first reported.”
Said Anthony, “You're going to be to the point in the very near future when it's cheaper to build a new school than to patch up what we've got if we're not there now. I don't think anybody is positive we're at that point, but we know we have to be getting close.”
Committee member Ruth Macy said the concept and funds appear to be attached to each other. She said for the community to support the concept, the boards have to be able to support it separately from the funds. “If we want taxpayer buy-in, which I really think we need at every stage, we need to be able to know, handle and manipulate this information so … you can say ‘…we are supporting a K-12 because it's the right decision for our school at this time and it fits with our building master plan.'”
Macy amended the first recommendation – to proceed with the concept subject to the acceptance of an unconditional gift – by splitting the concept from the funds. The suggestion was not to reject the offer of funds to get the project shovel-ready, but to allow Lavallee and Brensinger's work to stand on its own merits, she said. Committee Chair Stephanie Hawke said she did not think the concept design should move forward without having the funds to support it, so the recommendation should stay as written. Said Vice-Chair Peggy Splaine, “If our school needs to be looked at to this level, then we should be doing that whether or not we have someone drop money in our lap. It's not about the money. I think … it's about the concept design not being attached to an unconditional gift.”
The amendment carried in the school committee 4-2 with Hawke and John Bertolet dissenting; it carried with the trustees 3-2 with Chair Steve Lorrain and Hallinan dissenting; and after long discussion on the state of BRHS, how the pandemic may change things, the concept and the right time to act, both boards voted for the amended recommendation, to move forward with the concept design phase. Only committee member Bruce MacDonald dissented.
Said MacDonald, “We're in the middle of a pandemic with an unclear ending and unclear impact on the future of schools and the future of learning … The pandemic has devastated the budget … at the state level and local level. I don't know what kind of budgeting we’ll have moving forward. We're talking about starting a train down the tracks that (for) a new superintendent … is going to be their job and their focus. That means that's what we're going to be looking for, someone to run this all the way through referendum. If we could do this in January, I think we'd be much better off.”
Macy also amended the recommendation for a building committee of two trustees, two committee members and the superintendent – to add one selectman from Boothbay and one from Boothbay Harbor, for a seven-person committee. Members debated on whether or not selectmen should be voting members. Lorrain argued that based on multiple invitations to both boards of selectmen and their absences from meetings over the past year, asking the towns should not be a priority and members of the communities should be sought. Splaine pointed out there could not possibly be a fair selection process since so many will want to get involved.
The amendment carried 5-1 for the committee and 3-2 for trustees with Hawke and Lorrain and Anthony dissenting respectively. The subsequent vote on the motion as amended passed unanimously for both panels.
In a final action, Hawke motioned to “accept unconditional donations from benefactors to fund the concept design phase and schedule the CSD-wide voter referendum after completion …” The motion passed both boards unanimously.