SULLIVAN — Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) School Board members voted Feb. 6 to move middle school students — grades 6 through 8 — to the new high school building that will replace Sumner Memorial High School in 2020.
According to school district officials, that effort will likely mean putting middle-schoolers and high-schoolers in entirely separate parts of the facility. Some spaces — like the cafeteria, for example — would be shared but used at different times.
RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman said he felt the decision reflected what a lot of community members felt: that moving the two groups of students together would be a good idea.
“This is going to be good for kids if we’re going to have a proficiency system for the kids that blurs the grades,” said RSU 24 Business Manager David Bridgham, referencing an academic system that’s geared toward standards-based learning. “This would allow the advanced students to access courses they wouldn’t be able to access in their current situations.”
About six parents and community members attended the meeting, Eastman said.
“We’re certainly very excited that the vote went that the way that it did,” Eastman said. “With this we’re able to move forward.”
Parents at the meeting expressed concern about the distance kids will have to travel to attend school, and questioned whether the building being planned is large enough for all the students it will host. A community member also wondered whether the new facility will be able to run vocational programs, and a school board member urged those present to lobby officials in Augusta to allow for that.
But a big concern of the night, according to an email from Eastman, was about overcrowding. One board member present pointed to Peninsula School, the Prospect Harbor elementary school that is the newest RSU 24 building, as an example of how quickly these facilities can reach capacity.
Bridgham emphasized that the change would not put the elementary schools in danger of shutting down.
“We want to be clear,” he said, “this is not about closing schools.”
In fact, the RSU 24 elementary and middle schools currently have an overcrowding problem. A study by PDT Architects, the firm working on the new high school, found that there are too many students in the district’s schools other than Sumner. This new plan will help free up space, Bridgham said.
The new high school-middle school complex will be on the site where Sumner currently stands, against Route 1 in Sullivan. Eastman said it will most likely be built where Sumner’s soccer field currently sits, and it will take about two years to construct. Once that facility is complete, the current Sumner building will be taken down.
The next step in the process is to have a straw poll and public hearing related to the plan, which district officials will hold on March 20. On March 30, a site plan will be presented to state officials. On April 11, state board of education members will decide whether to move forward or make changes to the plan.
Assuming RSU 24 officials get the green light at that point, the district will have to put together a concept plan, which needs to be approved by the state, and a budget, which will be sent to a referendum for RSU 24 voters. Bridgham pointed out that they’d be voting on how to spend state money, as the project would be funded at that level.