WINSLOW — After years of discussion, the School Board voted to close the Winslow Junior High School within the next three years without a referendum vote.
The board had previously voted to accept the Winslow Junior High School Building Committee’s recommendation to close the building in two years and move sixth graders to Winslow Elementary School and seventh and eighth graders to Winslow High School.
The decision comes after much talk about the 88-year-old building and its multi-million dollar price tag for repairs and upgrades, which some say would still leave it relatively outdated and inefficient.
School superintendent Eric Haley said the original time frame may need to be extended by a year to work with the town, which wants to wait until it can retire debt services in November 2017. If this is an issue, the building could close in 2019-20.
“We’ve got everyone pulling the sled in the right direction right now,” Haley said at a School Board meeting Monday. “It doesn’t make a huge difference putting it off for one more year. It just gives us more planning time. And I’d rather have more planning time.”
The School Board was also concerned about the public’s reaction to the building’s closure. Board member Brad Grant, District 5, said he reached out to educators, the teacher’s union and his constituents about the potential project and said he got “almost no objection.” The general consensus, he said, was that the building was old and should be closed, although people wondered what would happen to it after.
The project does not have to go to a referendum vote now because the School Board has full authority to close the school as long as it has the space for students elsewhere, Haley said. Residents also can’t bring a petition on the issue.
However, the project can’t be completed without a bond from the town, which residents would vote on at a referendum.
A new committee tasked with looking at the potential closing of the school has been formed and will meet on Wednesday. The committee has received a number of bids from architects for the project, whom it will interview on Sept. 9.
In 2013, the previous building committee proposed adding a new wing to the elementary school for seventh and eighth graders along with extensions to the cafeteria, library and gymnasium. All told, the consolidation project was estimated at more than $5 million. The current proposal of splitting the middle school wouldn’t require an addition to the schools and would cost significantly less, officials have said.
In other business, the School Board approved the full list of newly hired staff unanimously.
Haley also reported to the board that food would be satellited from the Winslow High School to the junior high. If the junior high is to close in two or three years, Haley didn’t want to hire a head chef only to fire them in a few years, he said. The school system does satelliting elsewhere and is successful, he said.
Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239