MONMOUTH — Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Bill Zima said he thinks people are hearing the message that the proposed new school in Monmouth will be fully funded by the state.

Zima’s holding a final informational meeting Monday to make the final push ahead of the Nov. 7 referendum vote to allow the state to build a new consolidated school next to Monmouth Academy.

“If you vote yes, we’ll get a fully funded building and reduce our operating costs, but if you vote not, another town and district will get it,” Zima said Thursday during an interview in his office in Hallowell.

Voters in RSU 2 — which includes Hallowell, Farmingdale, Monmouth, Richmond and Dresden — will decide on the district’s plan to replace the aging Monmouth Middle and Henry L. Cottrell Elementary. The school’s entire $26.2 million construction cost would be paid by the state, and the district would take ownership of the buildings and assume maintenance responsibilities once the construction is complete.

“I believe the people are hearing the message that this is a cost savings for us,” Zima said. “This is a pretty simple decision for me.”

The unnamed consolidated school would operate more efficiently, Zima said, and the district estimates saving 75 percent in maintenance costs and 40 to 50 percent in fuel costs.

The two existing schools have a total of five furnaces, but the new school would have only one, representing a significant reduction in cost and a more efficient operation. Zima said the district was lucky to receive the earmarked funds from the state.

Dale Hinote, a Dresden selectman, said he strongly feels that the schools need to be replaced, especially because of their inefficiencies. He doesn’t expect a high voter turnout from the other four towns in the district, but he thinks the people of Monmouth will overwhelmingly support the plan.

“A more efficient building in Monmouth is going to work to the benefit of everyone in the RSU by lowering our energy costs, which has been a big concern of mine,” Hinote said. “I think this is a good idea and something we have to grab when we can.”

Hinote said the only reason he thinks someone would vote against the plan is if they didn’t know any better.

“They’d have to be under the misimpression that it’s going to cost taxpayers in RSU 2 significant additional money,” he said. “There are also some people who’ll vote no just because they see ‘spend money’ on the ballot.”

Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy said that any infrastructure improvement is a boon for community development and a way to increase the tax base because the quality of the school system and its facilities are major decision points for families looking to move into the region.

The vote is the culmination of a long process several years in the making, said Principal Melissa Burnham-Barter, who hopes to lead the consolidated school if the referendum passes. There’s been good turnout at public meetings held around the district, and she hopes the public supports the proposal.

“Folks seem to know this is best for our town, our kids and their future,” Burnham-Barter said.

When the state released a list of schools that qualify for the money available through its capital school construction program in 2011, Monmouth Middle ranked ninth on the list and Cottrell Elementary ranked 56th. If RSU 2 voters don’t approve the plan, the money would go to the next school on the list, and ultimately, RSU 2 would be left footing the bill for any future work on either school.

Zima and Burnham-Barter are excited about the prospects of a new pre-kindergarten to eighth grade school being built in Monmouth, and so are teachers and their students. Burnham-Barter said students have asked about how they can be involved and some have wondered if they can help design the playground or the greenhouse.

The proposed school would be built on land next to Monmouth Academy, and it would include softball, baseball and soccer fields; a playground; increased staff and visitor parking; and modern classrooms.

The existing Monmouth Middle School was built more than a century ago and has sloped floors and an inefficient and expensive heating system, Zima said, and students must walk through a locker room to get to some classes.

Monmouth Middle houses grades four through eight and was built in stages, starting in 1855 with the old Monmouth Academy building. The most recent wing was built in 1989, when Monmouth Academy moved across the street.

Christeen Mudgett teaches art and has been at the school for 18 years. She has seen the decline of the structure and the systems within the school and is excited about having an art classroom that is built as such from the beginning — her current room, in a dark hallway under the gym, used to be a garage and doesn’t have most of the things you’d expect in a modern art classroom.

“We’re really excited about the technology we’re going to be able to get, and I’m excited to get the kids into a space more conducive to modern learning,” Mudgett said.

Mudgett, who teaches fourth through eighth grade, said the teachers and students at Monmouth Middle always make the best of what they do have, but they’re excited about moving forward.

English teacher Melissa Fortin said she hopes people in the other towns in the district realize how they’ll benefit from the school, even if it’s not one their children would attend.

“The cost of maintaining the current schools is so high, so they’re going to see a savings too in the end,” Fortin said. “I think the children are aware of the plan because I think their parents are talking to them about it.”

Zima said that he can’t campaign for the referendum, but he expects Monday’s meeting to be like a campaign-style rally. He said he wants to convey the enthusiasm for the project.

The informational meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday at Monmouth Middle.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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