The Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus cafeteria as pictured on Aug. 25. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MALACHY FLYNN

Sumner going remote

SULLIVAN — Middle and high school students at the new Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus will now begin the school year with remote learning. The first day of school has been delayed for the third time this month. Grades 6 through 12 will begin school online on Monday, Sept. 19.

Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Superintendent Michael Eastman made the announcement Sept. 13 in a letter to parents.

“We do not have the time to sit around and allow the aforementioned [construction] process to keep us guessing about the date when we will get into the building. The more we wait for others to decide our fate, the greater impact it will have on our students and staff,” Eastman wrote. “It is because of this and with great reluctance that I announce that students in grades six through twelve will need to begin the school year with remote learning.”

Eastman said this is a temporary solution for the beginning of the school year. The need for remote learning will be reassessed as the school year progresses and construction on the new building continues.

“We will reassess our need for remote learning in the coming weeks and will make a decision on how best to move forward (remote vs. in person learning) on or about October 6th,” Eastman wrote. “This will give us time to work towards completing the remaining construction items to get us access to as much of the new school as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Prior to this update Eastman issued a letter to parents on Sept. 8, saying that the first day of school would be pushed back from Monday, Sept. 12, to Wednesday, Sept. 14. That update came a week after RSU 24 postponed the first day of school from the original date on Sept. 6, rescheduling it for Sept. 12.

Eastman said that by beginning remote learning now, students should be able to stay on track for the required number of school days, which in Maine is 175 days. RSU 24 will be seeking a waiver from the state for the days that have already been missed. If granted, graduation should still take place at its originally scheduled date.

“We will work with the Maine Department of Education to seek a waiver of some or all of the missed school days,” Eastman wrote. “I am committed to holding our graduation date (June 8, 2023) for our seniors. With some help from DOE, I believe it can happen, but we need to begin remote learning to achieve that goal.”

In an interview with Chris Popper of WDEA AM 1370 on the morning of Sept. 13, Eastman shared more details about the status of the new building, as well as the construction delays and system issues that have contributed to the start of school being delayed.

On his latest inspection of the building Mike Gurtler, the Sullivan code enforcement officer, found 30 problems that must be corrected before a temporary certificate of occupancy is issued. Two major issues in particular stand in the way.

“He [Gurtler] did an inspection on September 3rd, and that resulted in 30 issues that needed to be addressed,” Eastman said. “One of the items that was on the list was a signed agreement about the water issue that we have going on, so they wanted an agreement of a solution, a permanent solution.”

This is only to obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy and would set a timeline for establishing a water source for the sprinkler system. The system as designed relies on the Long Pond Water District, which cannot provide sufficient flow. The plan to resolve this issue is to install cisterns near the school building that will hold the proper volume of water for the sprinkler system to operate. This is the biggest issue with the new building and the solution is necessary for a final certificate of occupancy.

“They’re not going to get a final until the sprinkler system is operational,” Gurtler said.

The school district received an agreement regarding the solution to the water issue from general contractor Nickerson O’Day on Friday, Sept. 9, and on Monday, Sept. 12, CHA Architecture reviewed the plans with the Department of Education. As of now the school district is unhappy with the proposed cost of this solution.

“The proposed price was three quarters of a million dollars, but that’s obviously not acceptable,” Eastman said. “Especially when you’re talking about taxpayer money, so we’re in limbo waiting for that particular piece to be addressed.”

The school has been given requirements that its temporary fire mitigation plan must meet. Requirements include having a fire watch at the building, not allowing any members of the public aside from students, staff and faculty in the building and keeping students and staff out of several sections of the building. The auditorium, cafeteria, two music classrooms and two shop classrooms are currently not accessible under this plan.

In addition to the fire-suppression issue, the Long Pond Water District, located in Sullivan, does not meet the needs and requirements of the building’s potable water system. In the interview, Eastman spoke about the inconsistencies that the school has faced in dealing with the water issue.

“First of all, I should say, back in 2019 they [Long Pond Water District] gave a letter to serve, so they said that they could handle providing water to the school district, but then just this past July, we received official notification that they in fact couldn’t provide water to the school at the level that we needed it,” Eastman said. “It is something that needs to be addressed, and we are in the process of addressing it.”

As a parent of a student who will be attending the new school, Eastman said his frustration with the building delays is both personal and professional.

“I just want to say as a parent, I do have a student that’s going into this school, but a superintendent as well, I share the deep frustration of not having these kids in school. It is absolutely ridiculous that we are being held hostage in this situation,” Eastman said. “I know that people are just trying to do their job, but I question sort of the commonsensical aspect of it.”

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, I feel horrible for our seniors,” Eastman said. “If you look back over their four years, they’re going into their senior year, every year has been impacted by something, and it’s just not fair to students.”

Malachy Flynn

Reporter Malachy Flynn covers news on the Schoodic beat, which includes the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Sorrento, Sullivan, Trenton, Waltham, and Winter Harbor. He also reports on the town of Tremont on Mount Desert Island. He welcomes tips and suggestions about stories in the area. To contact Malachy with tips or questions, email him at [email protected].

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