WATERVILLE — Ahead of a scheduled public hearing to discuss a proposal to build a $6.12 million addition next year at Waterville Junior High School and move fourth- and fifth-graders there, parents Monday night grilled Superintendent Eric Haley and members of the Board of Education about the plan.

About 20 people turned out for the board meeting at the Waterville Senior High School’s media center. Some parents wanted to know if residents and the board would be asked to approve the proposal, whether there would be a second public forum after Thursday night’s planned event and when the board would vote on whether to relocate the students.

Parent Carrie LeVan said she and others worry a decision will be rushed because the addition would be built with federal CARES Act money, a portion of which must be used by 2023 and another portion by 2024. LeVan urged Haley, who said a public vote is not required, to check with other districts that have made such decisions to learn the potential pitfalls.

Board Chair Joan Phillips-Sandy assured LeVan the board had not discussed the proposal fully and was not going to rush into a decision.

“It’s not as though on Friday morning we’re going to be able to vote on anything,” Phillips-Sandy said.

Phillips-Sandy described Thursday’s forum as an opportunity to gather information.

“My point is, if things come up and people need additional information after Thursday, then we’ll get additional information,” she said.

Sara Wing, another parent, said asking questions Monday could help school officials prepare for Thursday’s public hearing. She said she hoped there would be a second public forum.

Phillips-Sandy said she was not sure there would be a second forum, but she and others would try to do things in a way that addresses all questions.

Nearly two hours into Monday’s meeting, Phillips-Sandy said the hour was late and asked that anyone with more questions pertaining to the Hall School issue save them for Thursday or email them to her or Haley ahead of the hearing.

Luke Brooks-Shesler and other parents have urged officials to consider building an addition at George J. Mitchell School rather than at the junior high. Those endorsing this move have said they think its appropriate to keep elementary school-age children together.

Brooks-Shesler said Monday he would also be OK with keeping the students at the Hall School and renovating it.

“If we only look at one option in isolation,” he said, “then we’re not able to assess the pros and cons in each decision.”

While the proposal to move the fourth- and fifth-graders to an addition at the junior high includes keeping it separate from that school and maintaining its Hall School name, another parent, Scott Beale, said it still means closing a school, which he called “a big deal.”

“It appears to me that this is a done deal,” Beale said, “and that the reaction for the superintendent and the board is to hold this Thursday meeting after all the parents raised concern.”

Like Phillips-Sandy, board member Pam Trinward said the Board of Education had not had a full discussion about the proposal, and board members have a list of topics they need to discuss regarding CARES Act money. They are trying to be ready, Trinward said, so they can guarantee all students can be in school — in person — in the fall.

Haley organized the public hearing set for Thursday. It is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at Trask Auditorium at Waterville Senior High School, 1 Brooklyn Ave.

The hearing is also set to be livestreamed via a link on the schools’ website — wtvl.aos92.org. Haley said those attending must wear protective masks and practice social distancing.

Earlier at Monday night’s meeting, board member Greg Bazakas said Trask Auditorium is dark and cavernous. He asked if the forum could be held at a location more conducive to public input.

School officials said with recent improvements to the auditorium, people should find it lighter and brighter. It was deemed the safest venue for a public gathering during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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