This rendering provided by Maine School Administrative District 49 shows the front of a $45.6 million regional elementary school that will be built in Benton after district voters this week approved the project. Image courtesy of CHA Architecture

FAIRFIELD — Residents of Maine School Administrative District 49 by a nearly 400-vote margin have approved a $45.6 million elementary school that will be built in Benton at a cost to be covered by the state.

The final tally, with 3,458 people in favor of the project and 3,062 against, will likely lead to some of the most consequential changes the district has seen in decades.

Unofficial results Tuesday showed voting in three of the school district’s towns was decisive: Fairfield recorded 1,602 votes in favor and 1,098 against, the tally in Clinton was 830 to 630, and in Benton the count was 743 to 585.

Residents of Albion, however, were overwhelmingly opposed, perhaps in large part because the project will lead to the closure of Albion Elementary School, with the town now considering leaving the district altogether. There were 749 votes Tuesday against the project with 282 in favor.

There was a second, related question on the ballot that asked residents if they would approve the use of $1.8 million in local money to build a larger gym with additional bleacher seating for the school. That measure failed, with 3,483 opposed to the expenditure for a larger gym and 3,005 in favor. Both Fairfield and Clinton approved the expenditure by narrow margins, Benton was against it by a similarly narrow count, and Albion overwhelmingly rejected it, 744 to 273.

The initial estimate for the project was $47 million but that included the $1.8 million request for a larger gym. With that no longer under consideration, the project now stands at $45.6 million and the Maine Department of Education will provide the funding for the district to pay the bond.


The project will allow the district to consolidate schools and reorganize students in grades six and under. In the plan, the district will close not just Albion Elementary but also Fairfield Primary School and Clinton Elementary School, and move pre-kindergarten through second grade to Benton Elementary School and third through sixth grade to the new building.

The new school will be located on a property adjacent to Benton Elementary School, off Neck Road in Benton. The building will feature a performance stage that can be accessed from the gym and the cafeteria, 28 classrooms organized by grade level, tutoring spaces within classrooms, music and band rooms, a learning commons/library, a technology classroom, and more.

The project will also include adding a turn lane to Neck Road, separate bus and parent drop-off loops, expanded parking at Benton Elementary, and reworking the bus and parent drop-off at Benton Elementary.

The district had proposed building the larger gym so that it was comparable to a middle school gym. Since the Department of Education will only pay for a certain sized gym in an elementary school — no more than 3,400 square feet and with bleacher seating for one third of the student body — a larger gym would have had to be funded by residents.

With residents rejecting that approach, the district will instead plan on a standard elementary school gym.

The district has said construction could begin in January 2024, with the intention of having the work done by December 2025.


The project has been in the works for several years, beginning when the district applied for state funding for construction, and Fairfield Primary School was named the No. 1 priority for the Department of Education.

The process has not been without contention, however, as residents in Albion are considering leaving the district entirely after the choice was made to close Albion Elementary when opening the new building. Organizers in Albion have said that the closure of the school would drastically affect their small community, potentially making it less attractive to new residents and increasing taxes over time.

And at a special town meeting in June, residents voted 184-23 to begin the process of leaving the district — although they must take another vote before the town could actually withdraw. Since then the town and district have each formed a negotiating committee to discuss what a withdrawal agreement could look like.

The committees would have to craft an agreement, then bring it back to Albion residents for a final vote to withdraw, but at any time the town committee can decide withdrawal is not feasible and end the process.

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