RANDOLPH — With the deadline on a decision to close Randolph’s elementary school looming at the end of the month. Randolph and Pittston residents still have dozens of questions about what that means for them.

At a public hearing Tuesday in the T.C. Hamlin School’s gymnasium, 44 people brought their concerns to the town’s selectmen.

“We’re not the bad guys here,” Mark Roberts, chairman of the Randolph Board of Selectmen, said at the outset of the town’s public hearing. “We’re offering a place for a voice. We don’t have answers.”

Randolph is one of four municipalities in School Administrative District 11, the Gardiner-area school district. The communities — Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Randolph — have their own elementary schools.

But if the school board opts to close T.C. Hamlin, that could change. A special board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26 at which the board is expected review some financial information and to vote.

Many residents, like Marge Gilmore, said they’re worried about the impact a closure would have on Randolph.

As with many small towns, the elementary school serves purposes other than education.

In Randolph, the school is the emergency shelter for its 1,770 residents, and the town has paid for a generator to be installed there. The school is also the site of the annual Town Meeting is held in July.

Beyond that, though, is a concern about how the move would affect the town’s elementary school-aged students.

“These are our little guys,” Gilmore said, echoing the concern of parents and grandparents who worry how changing schools will affect their children.

Some parents said they believed that the Randolph students would be isolated in the modular classrooms that would be added in Pittston if T.C. Hamlin were to close, but they were told that’s not so. Those students would be integrated into the existing classes.

Others argued for splitting the grades between the elementary schools on the east side of the Kennebec River, so that kindergarten through second grade would be at one school and the third through fifth grade would go to the other.

That’s one of the options that the ad hoc committee appointed by the school board to consider the future of the Randolph school reviewed but dismissed.

Many of those who attended the hearing did not attend the ad hoc committee meetings that were held from October to January, when the recommendation for closure was made.

Even so, as they have tried to get information, they said they have been frustrated by their inability to have input on the process.

Chad Kempton served on that committee. He’s a long-time Randolph resident and the principal of the Gardiner Area High School.

“My personal approach was to make things better for the kids,” Kempton said, in recapping his reason for offering up the motion to close for the committee to vote on.

He said he’s seen the benefit of regular, face-to-face collaboration for teachers in his school that teachers at the elementary schools don’t have the opportunity to do.

He also said that at least four times since 1998, when he started in the school district, officials have considered closing T.C. Hamlin, when its enrollment was 120; it’s currently 41.

After more than an hour of talk, Roger Linton, chairman of the Pittston Board of Selectmen and a retired administrator in the school district said he doesn’t know why other towns weren’t included in the deliberations.

“That’s a good question,” Roberts said.

“I see a lot of confusion here,” Linton said of the complicated issue.

School district officials started considering the closure of the school earlier this school year in the face of shrinking enrollment. The school board appointed an ad hoc committee of district and school officials and town elected officials and residents to consider the factors involved in keeping the school open and shutting it down. In early January, the committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend closure.

Since then, the school board held a forum in Randolph on the recommendation on Jan. 25, with a 75-minute presentation by Superintendent Patricia Hopkins followed by 90 minutes of questions and comments from residents.

Although the board had initially intended to vote that evening, the members opted to delay the vote so they could get more information on their obligations on several outstanding loans on the school building.

The board is expected to decide at a special meeting on Feb. 26.

The district has posted both the documents it has considered and videos of its meetings on its website, www.msad11.org.

If the board chooses to close the school, the state Department of Education outlines the process that must be followed. It includes a referendum vote by Randolph residents.

If Randolph residents vote against the closure, they will be obligated to pay the school’s expenses annually in addition to the property tax assessment for schools they would continue to pay.

While the calculations have not been completed, Randolph Selectman Matthew Drost said the impact on Randolph property taxes could be a 33 percent increase.

Roberts said the sentiments of the residents, both for and against, will be included in a letter they will send to the school board.

Randolph resident Pete Coughlin urged town residents to send emails or letters to SAD 11 board members before the vote to let them know how they feel.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ