FAIRFIELD — The School Administrative District 49 board of directors is seeking public input on potentially building a consolidated elementary school.

The board will host four meetings during January to get public input on the consolidated school and will explain what it sees as possible benefits of consolidation. The first meeting is scheduled for Monday at Fairfield Primary; the second, on Tuesday at Albion Elementary; the third, on Jan. 9 at Clinton Elementary; and the final session, on Jan. 10 at Benton Elementary. All the meetings will start at 7 p.m.

Board Chairwoman Shelley Rudnicki said the goal of the meetings is to discuss with the public the process of applying for state funding for a new school. She said the board will listen to any questions and concerns that may come up. Rudnicki added that if the states approves an application from SAD 49, the state would “have a say about consolidation.”

“By consolidating resources, districts like ours can save money,” Rudnicki said in an email.

In a Dec. 9 letter to district residents, the board wrote that with the exception of Benton’s, all the remaining schools in the district are more than 60 years old. The letter states that maintenance costs at the buildings is increasing and will continue to increase, and keeping up building and safety codes also will continue to become more costly.

“The schools in our district are over 50 years old. They are in need of some serious repairs over the next few years,” Rudnicki said. “We have been focusing on maintaining and repairing for years, but the time has come to make some tough decisions.”

The board had each building reviewed and inspected as part of a long-term planning process and discussed the best steps forward, which included looking at building a new school versus maintaining existing buildings. Securing state funding for a new building is being explored, and the letter states the elementary schools in Albion and Clinton, and Fairfield Primary, are good candidates for replacement. The letter also says the state has indicated population size is key in determining whether the state will fund multiple schools or ask for consolidation. According to data from the Maine Department of Education, last year Albion Elementary had 127 students enrolled, Clinton had 239 students and Fairfield Primary had 159 students.

“Given our shrinking elementary school population, in order to secure state funding to build any new elementary school the district would likely need to consolidate Albion, Clinton and Fairfield Primary Schools,” the letter reads in part.

This is not the first time school closures have been discussed in the district. Earlier this year, the board held a meeting in which it narrowly defeated motion to add a referendum question on a future town ballot asking residents to close Albion Elementary School. The final board vote was 6-5, and the discussion sparked reactions from residents who thought there hadn’t been enough communication. The vote was taken on Oct. 20 but had not been placed on the meeting agenda beforehand.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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