WINSLOW — When Winslow school officials sat back down at the drawing board Wednesday to amend their school renovation plan to fit the $8.1 million budget approved by the Town Council, it didn’t seem as though there were any good answers.

But after nearly two hours of what was at times discouraged debate, mixing and matching different pieces of the original $8.6 million plan to comply with the council’s decree, the group of educators and board members came together and decided to work with the budget and build the school the students need. With some creative maneuvering, the $8.1 million will pay for all of the square footage at Winslow High School in the original plan, but without all of the furnishings.

However, it wasn’t easy getting there.

At the special council meeting last week, Councilor Jeff West flipped the vote. He voted to reject sending the $8.6 million bond issue to voters after initially voting in favor of the order April 9 at the first reading. When asked why he changed his vote, he declined to comment.

As a way to get something on the June ballot, Councilor Ray Caron proposed shaving $500,000 off the bond. That motion passed 4-3, with West’s vote.

But there was no plan the building committee or school board had considered that totaled $8.1 million.

Board members, administrators and architect Stephen Blatt attempted to bring the cost down to the approved bond, but every solution floated by the group came with consequences that they believed would harm students.

If they cut the cafeteria expansion from the plan, it only would exacerbate the current problem of students declining to eat lunch because of the long lunch lines.

If they made the 430-seat auditorium smaller, it wouldn’t serve students adequately as a performing space or a teaching space.

If the auxiliary gymnasium expansion was scrapped, where would the junior high sports teams practice and play their games? If they took over the elementary school gymnasium, that would leave no space for the parks and recreation programs. Furthermore, it would result in a cut in physical education programming and certainly a loss of support at the polls.

They began to bemoan the council changing the game and putting them in the situation of trying to mix and match different pieces of the proposal that would be suitable for the students. Additionally, they spoke of their distrust of the council, saying if they held off on parts of the project right now, such as the gymnasium and cafeteria expansions, there was no certainty that the council would follow through and approve the additions down the line.

At one point, they even questioned whether they should go through with the referendum at all — especially if the end product was going to be a detriment to the educational experience.

Then Peter Thiboutot, the soon-to-be superintendent of Winslow schools, spoke up and reminded them of all the work it took to get to this point. He said people in the room had spent years working on this renovation plan — and they now needed to figure out how to make it work.

“We’re putting ourselves in a situation where (the plan) is not going to meet the needs,” he said. “The question becomes: How are we going to address that?”

The group then turned to creative solutions.

Junior High Principal Jason Briggs said he could make do without new seats if it meant building the square footage.

Will Backman, the director of technology, said he also could hold off on equipping the school with all of the necessary technology and apply for grant funding.

Paula Pooler, the finance director, said she could find money to finance the kitchen expansion outside of the bond. She also proposed a fundraising campaign that would involve community members donating money to get their name on a seat in the new auditorium.

Blatt said more work would need to be done, but it was a plan he could show to a construction manager.

The building committee will meet one more time at 5:30 p.m. Monday in room 133 of the high school to vote on whether to endorse this altered version of the plan. The school board also will vote May 21 on whether it endorses the plan.

If the bond question is approved in the June 12 referendum, construction will begin in March 2019.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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