WINSLOW — The Town Council is expected to take the second and final vote at a special meeting Monday evening on whether to send an $8.6 million school renovation bond to voters in June.

The bond would fund the closing of Winslow Junior High School and the renovation of both the high school and the elementary school in order to absorb the displaced sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. In the council’s first vote on whether the bond should go to voters, it narrowly passed by a vote of 4-3, with Steve Russell, Patricia West, Jeff West and Ray Caron voting for the bond and Ken Fletcher, Ben Twitchell and Jerry Quirion opposed.

In addition to classroom space for those students, the bond includes money for a new 428 seat auditorium, and for auxiliary gymnasium and food service expansions at the high school. It also includes money to renovate the elementary school to add space for sixth-graders. Renovation to the auditorium includes more space for the band and chorus, and changes would be made to the seating area for superior acoustics.

The councilors who voted in opposition cited that the building committee had failed to create a plan in line with the $7.83 million target the council recommended after the original $10.3 million bond failed at the polls in November. The plan the building committee and the school board approved is about $770,000 over that budget.

Board members and school officials have pushed back and advocated for the increased spending, saying it would be worth it in the long term to spend the money now.

At the last meeting, Peter Thiboutot, who is now the assistant superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92 and will be the superintendent of Winslow schools when the AOS dissolves in July, urged the council to send the bond to voters, saying that after several decades of his career in education, he knows that schools don’t close every day, giving the town a distinct opportunity to have vision for the future.

“The $7.5 million won’t provide what you need to grow programming and recruit a certain population of students. It can’t compete with what other schools are offering,” Thiboutot said at the meeting. “My fear is that we won’t find a way to invest in our future if we miss this opportunity.”

Joel Selwood, school board chariman, wrote in an email Friday that while the project cost is slightly more than the target budget developed by the council, “the difference is only $15 per year more for the average homeowner.”

Town Manager Mike Heavener was not available to confirm Selwood’s number Friday, or to answer questions about how the bond would affect the property tax rate.

At prior meetings, Heavener did affirm Selwood’s claims that the difference in the estimated annual bond payment between the $7.83 million target and the $8.6 million could be about $64,000. The bond structure, however, has not yet been decided by the council.

School officials have said in the past that the operational cost savings from closing the junior high and consolidating to a two-school campus would be around $400,000 annually.

In a document dated April 10 from AOS 92 Superintendent Eric Haley that Councilor Patricia West posted to a Facebook group called “What’s happening in Winslow, Maine?” estimated savings from heating, electricity, maintenance and personnel totaled $423,819.

“The annual savings in personnel, energy, and maintenance realized by consolidating into a far more efficient two school campus will pay a large portion of the bond payment for this project,” Selwood said Friday.

Fletcher has said at meetings that his concern is that the town would be facing an increase in the property tax rate not only from the bond, but also from next year’s school budget.

If the $23,591,388 budget is approved during a second reading in May, the town’s property tax rate would increase to $17.49 per $1,000 from the current $16.74. A resident living in a $140,000 median-value home will get a $105 increase in the property tax bill.

He called the increase in that spending “unreasonable and unsustainable.”

Residents will have a chance to speak their minds during a public hearing on the bond at 7 p.m. Monday before the meeting, which will be held in the back room of the Winslow Fire Department.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: