SULLIVAN — Residents of towns served by Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) got a refresher course May 22 on plans for a new combination middle and high school proposed to replace Sumner Memorial.
The question of whether to build a new $44-million school will be on the ballot June 11. Residents approved the project 46-11 in a straw poll March 20.
The new school would be located behind the existing Sumner building. If voters approve the project, construction is expected to begin in June 2020, with students using the new building in September 2022.
Following the presentation last week, officials answered questions from several of the approximately 30 people in attendance and engaged in a sometimes heated discussion with a parent opposed to the plan to send the district’s middle school students to the new facility.
Eastbrook resident Christopher Kerrigan wants his children, aged 5 and 8, to attend middle school where they are currently enrolled, at the Cave Hill School. He suggested the district remove the second-floor accommodations for middle school students from the proposed new building and, instead, construct a building that serves only as a high school.
Kathy Kahill, project manager with PDT Architects of Portland, said doing so would likely kill the project.
“The state would not approve just taking the second floor off the building. The state would have us go back and redesign,” she said.
The state mandates the size of facilities based on the number of students. Removing the middle school would reduce the number of students, thereby shrinking shared features such as the cafeteria and learning commons, and removing the middle school gymnasium, all of which are on the first floor.
If the June 11 referendum fails, the district has six months from when the state approved the plans to redesign and go back out to referendum. Because the state approved the conceptual design in April, the district would have until October to take those steps.
“We have never seen a project fail at referendum and redesign and go to referendum again in six months,” Kahill said.
In addition, said RSU 24 Business Manager David Bridgham, the redesign would need to be completed 45 days prior to a referendum.
Kerrigan said he believes the district chose to build a bigger school because the architect recommended it and benefits financially from it.
Jeffrey Alley, a School Board member from Winter Harbor, said the recommendation for the size of the school came from the state Department of Education, not the architect.
“It is our recommendation that the RSU build a school that can house other grades in addition to grades 9 through 12,” Alley said, quoting a letter from the Department of Education.
“We discussed the possibility of having a 9-12 [building],” Alley said. “We did not see it as economically feasible.”
Bridgham pointed out the state approved the school size in February 2017 but the architect was not appointed until May 2017.
Robin Wyzykowski, a School Board member from Sullivan, said the board had to consider the needs of the entire region over that of any one town.
“I’m telling you the school is the best thing for our students, the best thing for our teachers. It’s going to be a wonderful thing for our community,” she said.
The state will contribute an estimated $43,091,369 toward the total estimated project cost of $44,147,166. Municipalities within the district will contribute $730,797. An additional $325,000 is expected to come from fundraising to cover costs that the state will not cover such as the use of local granite at the building entryway.
At the May 22 meeting, residents questioned how many contractors must bid in order for the project to move forward, and what happens if bidding comes in above or below estimates.
Kahill said in Maine, only one bidder is required to bid.
The project budget includes a 5 percent bidding contingency, to handle a scenario in which bidding is over budget. Another 5 percent in the budget covers potential cost overruns during construction.
If bidding is significantly over budget, “then the district, architect and state work together to find a solution,” Kahill said. If a resolution involves a redesign, the architect would do it without further compensation, she said.
In response to another question, Kahill said the new building is designed to adapt to changing technology.
“We look at what’s coming down the pike and we put the infrastructure in,” Kahill said.
The desks, chairs and other furniture will be durable and movable so that they can be rearranged for different situations, she said.
Another question concerned accommodations for sports competitions while the new school is constructed.
Superintendent Michael Eastman said a variety of options are being considered, including playing more away games and checking on the availability of other fields.
“There are some pieces we have to get in place really quickly after the referendum,” he said.
Officials said the existing Sumner building would be demolished in August 2023 and athletic fields would be constructed where the school stands now.