Public weighs in on proposed school project ahead of November referendum

Fri, 08/04/2023 - 5:30pm

    After months of planning, the Boothbay region Building Exploratory Committee (BEC) recently voted to recommend a referendum question on funding the proposed $89 million project to renovate the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District campus. 

    The potential project includes demolishing the current Boothbay Region High School building in favor of a $47 million, 105,000 square foot high school which will also include a $5.5 million, 9,000 square foot auditorium. The middle-elementary school will receive $15 million in major renovations, including a $4 million addition. 

    The public vote to fund the project by bond is scheduled for Nov. 7. 

    When members of the community were asked in a public Facebook forum their thoughts on the proposed plan, most responded positively. 

    One was Tory Paxon, who is a Boothbay voter, BRHS alumna and mother to an upcoming kindergartner. She said she has attended multiple BEC meetings and believes the committee was incredibly thorough and open to adjusting plans based on public suggestions. “It’s time to properly invest in our school – building a new one is in the best interest of the students, and, as follows, our community.”

    Former BEC committee member Ruth Macy stressed the benefits of building a new school, rather than continuing to patch up the facilities which would require $40 million in renovations. According to Macy, while there would be a tax increase, the new school would cost less in the long run due to cooling, heating and security updates savings, and the added benefit of inviting people to the region. 

    However, due to declining enrollment in Boothbay and surrounding regions, some in the community have raised the possibility of combining with Wiscasset Middle High School (WMHS) as a better long-term solution. This would also mean leaving Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 school district to create a regional district that would include Wiscasset, according to Macy.

    Boothbay Harbor resident Tom Perkins has been a vocal supporter of the potential of a regional high school that could serve Boothbay, Wiscasset and Edgecomb students, but Perkins feels the solution hasn't been “adequately addressed.”

    "Who wouldn’t want a modern educational facility for our students and teachers?” Perkins wrote in an email. “But I think the numbers suggest it just isn’t cost-effective for small towns like Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor to sustain a high school on their own at the end of a peninsula. All towns in the area should communicate and cooperate to find the best long-term education solution.”

    The Facebook response to the possibility of a regional high school was mixed, with some questioning the building logistics and whether this would actually address declining enrollment. Boothbay Harbor resident Jill Watson Reynolds wrote, “Building a new school is the best option. Populations rise and fall. Just because it's low now doesn't mean it will be low in the future.”

    According to Paxon, “Moving the school off the peninsula would be a nail in the coffin for families in this community.”

    This sentiment was echoed by another responder, George Faint, who said taking the school out of the area would discourage young families from moving to the region. Others raised concerns about increased commute times for students, no longer having easy after-school access to the YMCA and other facilities, and the loss of each school’s traditions, such as the friendly rivalry between Boothbay and Wiscasset’s sports teams.

    Still, some pointed to Wiscasset’s recent drop to a Class D division due to its decreased student population as a reason why combining may be beneficial. 

    “I see nothing but positive changes by consolidating and actually hope to see it happen before my kids enter high school. I am also one for tradition but I would much rather see my kids have a better high school experience with all the opportunities, over a small school that can’t offer them,” wrote BRHS alumna Kaitlin James, mother of three. 

    There are currently no discussions to consolidate the school districts, and the rebuild-renovation proposal will go to voters in November.