Before we take to the polls on Nov. 7, I’d like to share with our community my thoughts on the proposed Regional School Unit 18 track and facilities projects bond. As a resident or employee in the RSU 18 community since 2001, I can offer my perspective as a parent, administrator and community member.

I support the combined track and facilities project and believe it is essential that we pass the proposed $13.9 million bond to complete necessary building upgrades and minimize the burden to our taxpayers over time. I earnestly believe that this is best for the district, and I believe the current economic growth, low unemployment, and increased funding for education make now the right time. It is not an “extra” or an add-on. It is a crucial improvement that will offer a quality educational experience to our students, quality programming to our athletes, and a quality facility to our communities and youth programs.

Messalonskee has never had a veritable track — we have historically used a dirt oval that poses a safety hazard to our students and is an inadequate structure to symbolically represent a large portion of our athletic department. Countless injuries, consequences of the track’s disrepair, have prevented athletes from finishing seasons; and even our physical education programs and, moreover, our community, cannot benefit from its regular use. An eight-lane track not only would provide RSU 18 with a safe place to practice, but would benefit our community by providing a venue to host meets and other events that economically boost our local businesses and serve our community into the future.

WHY A TURF FIELD?

A turf field makes the most sense for access, use and safety. Current field conditions are unsafe for physical education programs, and rarely dry or safe enough for regular use. A turf field would also offer access to each of the field sports and allow teams to play significantly earlier and later during each season. It can be scheduled hour over hour, maximizing practice time and increasing community access. We could welcome other schools and youth programs to use the facilities, whereas current fields have precluded such opportunities. A turf field is both a practical and affordable solution when you consider the dramatic impact it would have on our schools and communities.

A LITTLE HISTORY

The last football field renovation more than two decades ago included an unfulfilled plan to add a surfaced track. Plans for a complex surfaced in 2001 but were never executed. Over the next 16 years, I participated in conversations as a teacher, varsity coach, administrator and community member, watching dedicated people donate hours of time into creating projects that went unsupported, or were considered untimely. In 2012, we earned a free field study from the University of Maine graduate program, supported by the school board; and in 2015 and 2016, the boosters, through the effort of many private volunteers, garnered test borings and a field study, ultimately returning to the board, requesting to spend booster money on an engineering plan — a plan that ultimately resulted in the proposed athletic improvements included in this bond.

WHY INCLUDE BOTH PROJECTS?

RSU 18 has, for too long, done less with more with its buildings and facilities. The cost savings that have come from waiting have kept budgets down but have created the situation the district is in now. It’s faulty logic to think that this essential track project loses its merit in the face of these needs, and it would also be irresponsible to complete a track project without the needed facilities upgrades. This combined project should address the big issues the district faces so that administration can develop a plan that adequately maintains the facilities into the future. To do only one or the other would likely mean only one gets done in the foreseeable future. That is not an option I could vote for.

Why now?

The school administration and communities have worked hard to minimize taxes and reduce debt over the last several years, and the current economic environment and funding for education, coupled with RSU 18’s financial situation and management, provide an opportune time for a larger, long-term bond that can address these necessary improvements to the athletic complex and school facilities.

We can always look to push off spending, but what we often find is that, provided we have a good fiscal plan and strong leadership, there is no better time than the present to move forward with an essential project like this.

Jon Moody is a resident, parent and former teacher and principal in Regional School Unit 18.

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