ANSON — Public debate about the future of the Town Office has prompted town and school officials to renew discussions on the future of Garret Schenck Elementary School.
And school officials — surprised that town officials talked publicly last week about the possibility of closing the school and moving the Town Office there — now are stressing that a lot of review has to happen before any decisions are made.
While the school board of North Anson-based School Administrative District 74 is considering renovations to the high school, those renovations would be independent of any decision made about the future of the elementary school, according to Superintendent Ken Coville.
On Tuesday, town officials deferred action on the Town Office issue in order to seek the district’s input, citing Schenck’s possible closure. Coville, who was surprised to learn the next morning that officials had discussed the closure — said such a decision would not be made soon.
In response, Coville wrote a letter sent to parents Wednesday, saying “before any such significant decisions are made there would be a public process that would seek parent input and open public discussion of the pros and cons of such action.”
The possibility of using the school to house the Town Office has been part of informal discussions since last summer, when a series of air quality problems at the current Town Office forced administrators to relocate. At that time, the suggestion was to use a portion of the school to serve as office space, according to Coville’s letter to parents.
The letter states that although no formal discussion about closing the school has occurred, the building does have unused space because of declining enrollment over the past several years.
“The community and school board will have the challenge in the coming year of deciding these issues. Be assured that as the school board grapples with these issues you will be kept in the loop,” the letter states.
Sarah Nelson, a parent of a second-grade student who lives in Anson, said she likes sending her son to the small elementary school but also understands that many small towns face similar problems when it comes to available space and student capacity.
“If they’re going to do re-organization, it needs to be communicated well,” Nelson said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the Town Office if there really is a declining population. I think it would be a great potential community center.”
The offer to use space at the school is still open, according to Principal Jean Butler, who also said she thinks the town will need to decide about the Town Office before the district plans for the future.
“We always need to look ahead, but there are a lot of steps before we make decisions,” Butler said. “The town obviously has to decide what is the best, cost-effective option for them in terms of a town hall, and we did talk to them about using some of the space at Garret Schenck. We did that last summer, and they didn’t seem to be that interested at the time. I don’t know what they’re going to decide.”
The temporary building housing the Town Office is also for sale.
On Wednesday, the Department of Education approved the issuance of a $2 million bond for the district so it could undertake renovations at Carrabec High School, according to Coville. But before renovation planning can proceed, the bond will need additional school board approval, as well as approval from district residents in a referendum vote, he said.
If they do take place, the renovations would include much-needed repairs to the aging high school building, including fixing the gymnasium roof, paving the school parking lot, replacing demountable walls with new walls, upgrading classroom entryways and making heating and ventilating systems more energy-efficient.
The project is independent of any school closures or movement of grade levels to different buildings, if there are any, Coville said.
No school can be closed without school board and citizen approval through a referendum vote.
At the Town Meeting earlier this month, citizens decided to not raise the necessary money for repairs at the Town Office.
“There were discussions about the excess capacity and whether the town would be interested in talking with the school department about the future and how we could work together towards the future,” Coville said.
“If it materialized, it would certainly be key to the findings of the building committee,” Worthley said, “and that is why it was brought up.”
Rachel Ohm — firstname.lastname@example.org