RSU 24 School Board to consider a revote on buying district offices

GOULDSBORO — The Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) School Board will meet Sept. 5 to consider revisiting an issue that was posed to eastern Hancock voters last November: whether to buy the building that houses the school district’s offices.

The meeting will be held at the Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor at 6:30 p.m.

The vote last year was centered around whether the district should spend $1.265 million for the RSU District Services Facility on Route 1, but Business Manager David Bridgham said buying the building would actually save money. The building would be bought with favorable loan rates from the Municipal Bond Bank.

The facility is currently leased from the contractor that built the facility, Barbee Construction. Bridgham said the district would save more than $600,000 during the 15-year life of the loan if it bought the facility. He said the district had always intended to buy the facility.

Bridgham said last year’s vote — which aligned with presidential, congressional and controversial ballot initiatives — led to the largest turnout the district has seen.

Bridgham and Superintendent Michael Eastman invited the selectmen representing each of the towns that make up the district to Tuesday’s meeting, saying that they expect the School Board to place their opinions of the issue in high regard.

“I think a heavy weight will be placed on their input,” Eastman said. “The board is pretty clear that they want to respect the will of the voters.”

Eastman and Bridgham said their bond counsel informed them last year that the referendum question couldn’t be written in a way that would influence the outcome of the vote, so it couldn’t reference the long-term savings of buying the building.

“People read, ‘Borrow $1.2 million,’ and said, ‘No,’” Bridgham said.

In a letter to town selectmen, Eastman wrote that he’d been told school officials didn’t do a good enough job of getting the information out about the savings.

“Last winter a number of our municipal selectmen, both individually and collectively as boards … expressed disappointment in the outcome of the referendum and urged the RSU 24 directors to consider bringing the question back to voters in June,” Eastman wrote. “The board is understandably reticent about bringing a question that has already been rejected back to the voters so quickly.”

Rob Wilpan, a selectman from Sorrento, said he had spent time talking to friends in the past year, and realized they voted against the question in November because they thought it would cost more money to buy the building.

He sent a letter in April to selectmen from all the towns in the district arguing that there should be a re-vote.

“It makes economic sense,” he said in an interview. “We stand to save significant money each year. The building’s well built, it’s economical to run.”

Wilpan said the wording of last year’s referendum didn’t give voters enough information to make an informed choice.

The question of whether to send the issue to the ballot in November will be first on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting.

After the city of Ellsworth and the towns of Hancock and Lamoine broke off from RSU 24 to form separate school districts in July 2014, school officials had to find a new place to house their offices.

At the time, buses were run out of Hancock and district offices were in Ellsworth’s Mill Mall. Bridgham said after searching for an office, RSU 24 decided on the facility it is in now, and always intended to eventually buy.

Bridgham told The Ellsworth American in 2016 that the contract with Barbee had been written so that the cost of leasing would increase each year as an incentive to buy the building.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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