FAIRFIELD — The School Administrative District 49 board of directors and district administration have submitted applications to replace three local elementary schools, with the possibility of moving students from Albion, Clinton and Fairfield into one new school in the face of declining enrollment.

Superintendent of Schools Dean Baker said SAD 49 probably was the first school district to send in applications for the latest cycle of the program to the Maine Department of Education, which provides funding for major renovations and replacements with its Major Capital School Construction program.

The three applications the district sent included Albion Elementary School, Clinton Elementary and Fairfield Primary School. Those three schools were identified as good candidates for replacement by the board of directors in a letter sent to parents in December.

“We believe our application has significant merit and that it makes much more sense to consolidate schools and avoid the cost of repair and ongoing maintenance in three schools that have all been in service for a very long time,” Baker said.

Baker said the schools are all old and need repair. Fairfield Primary is the oldest; it was built in 1907, and in the 1920s a fire burned the building’s interior. The original Albion Elementary School building was built in 1952, and the original Clinton Elementary building was built in 1940.

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.

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 school board held discussions at which the topic came up earlier this winter. Baker said it is up to the state to make a recommendation on consolidation.

Consolidation has been a much-discussed topic previously 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.

The letter from the board also indicated population size is a factor in determining whether the state will fund multiple schools or ask for consolidation. 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, according to data from the Maine Department of Education.

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.

Now that the district’s applications are in, Baker said, the state will review applications and conduct site evaluations, which he believed would be completed by the end of the calendar year. Then in early 2018, the education department 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.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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