GARDINER — A discussion of ways to address space problems in Regional School Unit 11 started with nine options and ended with even more to study, thanks to suggestions from school board members and residents.

Superintendent Pat Hopkins said she would assemble more information and asked board members to think more about the options so they can narrow them down at their next meeting, on Dec. 5. Budget development begins in January, so decisions must be made soon to take effect next year.

Even the district’s status quo configuration probably would require some change because Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner is over capacity and needs at least two more classrooms in the short term. That could cost up to $250,000.

Meanwhile, T.C. Hamlin School in Randolph is significantly underenrolled. There are 97 students in a school built for 155, and 30 of the students are in prekindergarten, there only half a day.

Hopkins said RSU 11’s small elementary schools and class sizes hurt the district in calculations of state subsidy because the ratios for staff and administrators are lower than the ones in Maine’s school funding formula.

Hopkins presented the pros and cons, and possible costs and savings, for each of nine reconfiguration options. Nearly all had more cons than pros, with the most balanced being to close T.C. Hamlin and send Randolph children to Gardiner’s two elementary schools — Laura E. Richards School and River View Community School. That would make space tight at Laura E. Richards and River View, however, and would not solve the crowding at Helen Thompson.

The district also could send Randolph children to Pittston Consolidated School, which board Chairwoman Becky Fles, of Gardiner, said she would support. That would require at least six modular classrooms, because Pittston is close to capacity.

Board Vice Chairman Eric Jermyn, also of Gardiner, said he would support something similar but also wants to see all prekindergarten classes moved to T.C. Hamlin, along with the district’s central office, which is now on Highland Avenue in Gardiner.

Transportation was noted as a complicating factor or increased expense for most of the reconfiguration options.

School board member Joe Gould, who represents Gardiner, said the board should go with the boldest option, building a districtwide elementary school. It would have about 1,000 students, making it the state’s largest school for pupils in pre-kindergarten through grade 5. The estimated cost presented Thursday was $33.6 million.

A few school board members and people in the audience, which consisted of about 35 attendees at Gardiner Area High School, said the district should consider making Gardiner’s elementary schools both pre-kindergarten through grade 5, reversing a decision made several years ago to put pre-kindergarten through second grade at Laura E. Richards and third through fifth grades at River View.

West Gardiner representatives Deb Couture and Andy Grover and Pittston representative Nicole Sacre suggested reorganizing Laura E. Richards and River View as at least part of the solution. The Gardiner schools would have to take some students from either Helen Thompson or T.C. Hamlin to address the space problems at those schools.

Hopkins said she would have to look at the numbers more closely and provide the school board with the information later.

Pittston mother Jen Paul said she’s worried about modular classrooms being built on Pittston Consolidated School’s athletic fields and the loss of gymnasium space if a school is closed. Paul said the area already has a shortage of gymnasium space, leaving her daughter’s travel basketball team to go to Augusta for practice.

Paul also urged RSU 11 officials to consider the needs of the community outside the schools as well.

“I’d like to see things stay the way they are, and one of the reasons why is we’re all talking about academic space; but all of these buildings that we have are integral to the communities that we live in,” Paul said. “There’s a lot of other activities that take place.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645 [email protected] Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan

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