FAIRFIELD — The School Administrative District 49 board of directors is applying for state approval to replace three local elementary schools, possibly by moving students from Albion, Clinton and Fairfield into one new school.

The board held four public meetings throughout January to inform residents of their intention to apply for a new school. Board Chairwoman Shelley Rudnicki said they will be turning in three applications to the state to replace Albion Elementary School, Clinton Elementary and Fairfield Primary School. Those three schools were identified as good candidates for replacement, according to a letter the board sent to district residents in early December. The remaining elementary school in the district, Benton’s, is not as old as the other schools, so it is not being considered for replacement.

“All three buildings are more than 60 years old and are in need of major capital improvements in the next five years,” Rudnicki said via email.

There have been discussions about a possible consolidation of the three schools, as officials said the state would be more inclined to provide funding for one larger school than multiple schools within a district.

The December letter also stated 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, during the last school year, Albion Elementary had 127 students enrolled, Clinton had 239 and Fairfield Primary had 159, for a total of 525 students among the three schools.

The enrollment numbers in the elementary schools have decreased steadily in the past 10 years.

During the 2006-2007 school year, there were 162 students in Albion, 289 in Clinton and 235 in Fairfield. With last year’s enrollment, the total student population among the three schools has dropped by 131 students, or by 19 percent, since 2006. During the 2010-2011 school year, there were 142 students in Albion, 291 in Clinton and 169 in Fairfield — a difference of 77 students among the three schools, or 13 percent, compared to last year’s enrollment total.

“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.

Superintendent of Schools Dean Baker said he expects to have the applications sent in to the state within the next several days. He said the state determines what projects will be funded and then ranks them on a list of when they receive funding. The state could provide funding to replace all three schools, though it’s more likely they would fund a consolidated school, he said.

“Normally the state promotes a consolidation of existing facilities to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness,” Baker said.

The board also 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. Baker said it is to early to say what the district will end up with.

Rudnicki also said in December earlier that by “consolidating resources, districts like ours can save money.” Whether there is a consolidation will depend on if and what the state is willing to provide the district.

The deadline to apply for state funding for a new school is April 14. From May until December, the Maine Department of Education would review applications and conduct site evaluations.

In early 2018, the education department then would compile evaluation scores of all applicants before developing a proposed priority list. That final proposed list would be announced in the summer of 2018.

“There have been general discussions,” Rudnicki said of what a new school might cost, “but until we know if we have been accepted for a new school, costs are not known.”

There have been previous discussions of possible school closures in the district. In 2016, the board held a meeting in which it narrowly defeated a 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 public communication. The vote was taken on Oct. 20, 2016, but it had not been placed on the meeting agenda beforehand.

Baker said unlike the earlier discussion about whether to close Albion, if a new school were to be built, it would be a “multi-year process”; so while the existing facility eventually would be closed, it wouldn’t be at the beginning of the next school year.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

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Twitter: @colinoellis