CSD, towns meet to discuss infrastructure spending

Posted:  Saturday, September 22, 2018 - 8:45am

The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor CSD Board of Trustees and School Committee hosted a joint discussion with the selectmen of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor Sept 19. The discussion centered around mostly short term infrastructure spending which has the potential of topping approximately $8 million or more.

Superintendent Keith Laser served as moderator and introduced the issues surrounding the spending. With many reeling from the price tag and unsure of how maintenance spending reached this point, Laser offered a timeline explaining the question: “How did we get here?”

Some of the projects stem from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation report for Boothbay Region High School, which found a few issues, said Laser. That sparked the trustees to request Honeywell, the company contracted for systems work in both buildings, to do an energy audit.

“In that report, they broke it down into a couple different ways that we can address the system,” said Laser. “The school you're in now is 42 years old and this ventilation system is original, so that is a big price tag in that Honeywell report.”

A second report from architecture firm Lewis and Malm showed further issues. Both estimated costs combined gets to the $10 million.

When the trustees discovered how much spending is likely needed, they reached out to the school committee for a joint meeting and appealed to the boards of selectmen in Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor who helped coordinate it, Laser explained.

“Since that meeting (in August), I've had opportunities to meet with a lot of different folks in the community with a bunch of different ideas, critiques to move forward. That's pretty much how we got here.”

Laser said there are tangible, more obvious problems like defoliation of concrete on Boothbay Region Elementary School’s exterior, single pane windows in BRES – 48 with broken seals – that leak air, water and frost on the inside during winter, and crumbling parking lots. However, most problems the reports highlighted are more subtle to the eye, like ventilation and heating, so the results of a lot of spending will not be so obvious from the outside, he said.

With enrollment decreasing year to year, the cost per pupil ratio increases, said Laser. Maine Department of Education data shows the cost per pupil for the CSD was over $18,000. Maine’s average was just under $12,000.

Laser also said the reason why the budget is not prepared to handle this kind of spending and why it could not approach these projects year to year is likely the charter drafted in 1955. The charter brought the two towns together to put money into the schools, but the maximum carry-over from year to year is $12,500.

He said it was adequate for 1955, but very much dated over the past few decades. Laser suggested there be conversations about the charter and a vision for the schools in a 21st century learning environment.

“These are your schools. Where do you want to go? Do you want to spend $10 million on what you have now moving forward? Or are you interested in doing something new, something exciting?”

The public and many members of the towns' boards spoke to the issues. People said they want to see a detailed and prioritized list of all the projects and would like to see suggestions for short term projects versus long term ones, to reduce or spread out the cost.

Boothbay Harbor Selectmen’s Chair Wendy Wolf said she would like her board to look at the charter and discuss what should be done since it would be within the board’s purview. Boothbay Selectman Kristina Ford suggested the benefits for energy upgrades would not be realized for around 300 years and she would like to see how those projects would benefit the students and taxpayers.

Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patricia Royall said local employers who were surveyed identified a problem with the school system.

“When they bring people to their place of employment and to the schools, they want to go someplace else. That's a problem,” said Royall.

Royall said she is not saying the region does not have a good educational system, but that the perception in the community is, the schools are not good. If it is good, people need to know the great things that go on daily in the schools, Royall said.

“Then we need to work on the school and getting it up to snuff … If we continue to look back instead of forward … we will stay what we are. We will fix this building, but it will not make our community better and it will not bring young families to this community … The future is young people and if we don't start bringing young people into our community, do you know what the outcome is going to be? This school is going to close and if you know what happens with a school that closes – it kills a community.”