A rendering of the proposed primary school off Gray Road in North Yarmouth. Courtesy SAD 51

Absentee voting has already begun, and still some residents of SAD 51 have unanswered questions about the 76-acre site in North Yarmouth that soon could host a new elementary school.

While critics assail the cost of the $73.9 million school bond referendum that’s on the Nov. 8 ballot in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, they also worry that district officials have pitched a sketchy plan born of desperation to solve a stubborn school crowding problem.

They don’t understand why the district would buy more than the 5 acres needed for the school, especially when it appears to some that a prolific local developer is trying to unload land that’s too sloped or too wet, and stands to profit greatly from the deal. They also fear that the project will force some residents to leave town if they can’t afford the impending tax hike, and that it could grow even more expensive in these uncertain economic times.

“I think they’re desperate,” said Bill Young, a longtime resident of North Yarmouth who is living temporarily in Cumberland. “This is not a good location for a school and they have no idea what the total cost is going to be.”

Many agree that a solution is needed for the crowded Mabel Wilson School, where 14 modular classrooms accommodate 762 students in a building constructed for 550. District officials and supporters say the referendum proposal is a necessary, responsible, energy-efficient answer to a problem that’s expected to get worse and grow more costly to solve. District enrollment is projected to swell by 307 students within a decade, from 2,059 in 2021 to 2,366 in 2032.

If the $73.9 million referendum passes, $70.3 million would pay for building a new school for 732 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade.


Another $2.4 million would be used to continue renovating Mabel Wilson School to house grades 3-5 and seven modular classrooms would be removed from Greely Middle School, which currently includes grades 5-8.

And $1.2 million would buy the 76-acre proposed school site at 80 Gray Road from Construction Aggregate Inc., an arm of A.H. Grover Inc., a family-owned excavation and construction company in North Yarmouth. It’s headed by Ben Grover, who is married to Debbie Allen Grover, North Yarmouth’s town clerk and assistant town manager.

It’s part of an 88-acre parcel that Grover purchased for $750,000 in June 2021 from Ruth York of New Gloucester, according to town and county records. York still owns the original two-bedroom ranch that stands on 1 acre at 80 Gray Road.

Grover bought the land shortly after he got planning board approval to develop a 13-lot subdivision that he named York Ridge.

Town tax records indicate that Grover sold the subdivision for $1.1 million in July 2021 to Graiver Homes Inc. of Falmouth, which has built and sold several of the houses for $400,000 to $558,000 each.

That means Grover could profit as much as $1.5 million on the land if the referendum passes.


The 76 acres stretch west toward the Cumberland town line, over cleared and wooded terrain that’s about 50% steep slopes and 12% wetlands, including a brook, according to the school district.

SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter signed an option to buy the land in December 2021 that runs through November.

Porter said he’s confident that $1.2 million is a fair price and that the Gray Road land is an appropriate, attractive and safe location for the district’s youngest students. He acknowledged the expense of building an access road ($1.4 million) and installing a water main extension, septic system and electricity ($2.1 million), but he said those costs are common in rural Maine.

A rendering of the proposed elementary school on 80 Gray Road in North Yarmouth. Courtesy SAD 51

After three years of planning and two previous failed proposals, he said he was glad to learn last year that the Gray Road site was for sale.

“I have no misgivings,” Porter said. “I think everyone is always going to have questions about a project like this. I’ve been absolutely confident from the moment I got my feet on the site. It felt like we found the piece of land we were looking for. I think it’s a good price for the amount of land and the community it’s in.”

Lianne Mitchell lives next door to the proposed school site. She worries about the impact that rapid residential development is having on town infrastructure, taxes, quality of life and the environment, including a pond on her property.


She wonders why the district is buying land where Grover planned to develop an additional 13 house lots but didn’t because it would be too difficult and expensive, she said.

Town records show Grover did consider developing a second phase of York Ridge. The district’s school proposal includes more than $1 million for permits, land surveys, soil analysis and other testing.

“Why are we buying the whole 76 acres?” she asked rhetorically. “It makes you question connections that people have in this town.”

Grover didn’t respond to repeated requests to discuss why he’s selling the land and whether he would sell less than 76 acres.

A rendering of the proposed primary school off Gray Road in North Yarmouth. Courtesy SAD 51

The question of buying only part of the 76 acres never came up, said Jason Record of Cumberland, chairman of the nine-member school board that unanimously agreed to put the referendum on the ballot.

“We never discussed buying less of the land and the seller did not present the option,” Record said. He had not met Grover, he said, but he believed he worked in construction.


The market value of the land is mostly in areas that would be used for the building, roads, septic system, parking and playgrounds, he said. “What’s leftover isn’t highly desirable from a development standpoint.”

The entire project would take up closer to 15 acres, Record said, including an access road off Gray Road/Route 115 and other outdoor features. Any undeveloped portions would be protected as recreational areas and open space, he said.

Talk in the community of building a second access road to the school hasn’t been discussed by the school board and could add as much as $5 million to the project, Record said.

Record noted that the land cost for this project would be less than the previous site that the school district considered – 2.5 acres next to Greely High School in Cumberland that was priced at $1.4 million. That project would have cost about $46 million and faced significant community opposition, he said.

The $73.9 million needed for the Gray Road proposal would be borrowed at an estimated 4% for 20 years, although district officials admit predicting future interest rates is nearly impossible. The property tax impact would be phased in, starting at a projected $46 per $100,000 of assessed property value in 2026. It would peak at $920 on a home assessed at $400,000 in 2030, then decrease gradually over the remainder of the bond.

If the referendum fails, district officials would have to find a way to absorb additional students and risk reduced educational outcomes and lower morale among students and staff, Record said.

If the referendum passes, the project couldn’t exceed the approved price tag without going back to the voters, he said. That’s not impossible given the rising costs of labor and materials.

“There’s a fair amount of cushion built in,” Record said. “If things get worse than what’s accounted for, we’ll have to make some hard decisions.”

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