GARDINER — A divided Gardiner-area school board voted Thursday to close the Teresa C. Hamlin School in Randolph after months of meetings and several hearings.

The School Administrative District 11 board made the decision after brief presentations on the outstanding bonds or leases on the building and the amount of savings closing the school would represent.

The board’s decision means that district administrators will move ahead with drafting two budgets, Superintendent Pat Hopkins said, one with the school closed and one with the school open.

While the board has made its decision, it’s just one of the steps in a state-mandated process that districts must follow when closing a school.

The next step will be a referendum in Randolph, which has not been scheduled yet. If town voters opt to override the board’s decision and keep the school open, town taxpayers would have to foot the bill for that cost.

Before the board started its deliberation, Chairwoman Becky Fles said that while school board members are elected from individual towns, their charge is to represent the district’s school children and to give them the best educational experience possible.

“Change is a challenge, and it is uncomfortable,” Fles said. “It doesn’t mean its bad; it just means it’s uncomfortable.”

Michael Gammon, one of the board members from Randolph, opposed the closure. “I have yet to see something being taken away and anything good come from it,” Gammon said.

Looking at the anticipated savings from closing Teresa C. Hamlin School — nearly $453,000, just a small fraction of the district’s $23.4 million budget — he said the district could afford to keep it open.

But Carrie Boudway, a school board member from West Gardiner, said the district has no other option, because keeping the Randolph school open would jeopardize the future of the Pittston Consolidated School — where Randolph’s remaining 40 students may be transferred — which has more classrooms than the Randolph school, and a newer kitchen.

Gammon voted “no” on the motion to close the school. Because two board members, Eric Jermyn from Gardiner and Mark Bechard from Pittston were absent, they were counted as “no” votes.

About 30 people gathered in the cafeteria of the Gardiner Regional Middle School to watch the debate, including Randolph’s three selectmen, teachers, members of the district’s administrative staff and some parents.

At the start of the meeting, Fles said no public comment would be taken and noted that people had opportunities to speak at other meetings and to send emails to board members.

After the meeting, Randolph Selectman Bob Henderson said the school board had made a mistake and it would have an impact on the town.

“A family of five just moved in next door to me, and there’s no school for them,” he said.

The vote comes more than four months after an ad hoc committee to the school board started examining options for the elementary school.

In a series of meetings, at which no public comment was taken, the committee — made up of district administrators, educators, school board members, Randolph elected officials and parents — considered Randolph’s population, projections of student populations in the district, the savings to the district if the school were to be closed, and the logistics of splitting elementary grades between the Randolph school and the Pittston Consolidated School just over a mile away.

In early January, the committee made a recommendation to close the school in Randolph and to acquire a modular classroom building to be installed at the Pittston school to accommodate students from both Pittston and Randolph. At a forum the district held in Randolph at the end of January, parents from both Randolph and Pittston said they were concerned about the move.

At that time, a final vote on the closure was scheduled to take place Feb. 26, but the special meeting had to be delayed because the district’s lawyer wasn’t able to provide information on district bonds outstanding on the Randolph school by that date.

In February, the Randolph Board of Selectmen hosted a public hearing for town residents to discuss the effect of relocating Randolph students, and board members drafted a letter to send to the district, in which they recommended keeping the school open an additional year. That way, the district could pay another year of debt service on the outstanding bond without having to pay a penalty, and give town officials a chance to position itself to accept the building if the school district were to offer it.

The extra year also would give the other communities in the school district — Gardiner and West Gardiner — a chance to weigh in.

The Randolph selectmen said they are interested in continuing discussions with the district over the use of the building. It’s the town’s emergency shelter and where the Randolph has held its annual Town Meeting every July.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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