State Sen. Eloise Vitelli this week introduced a bill that would fast-track state funding for school districts to rebuild or repair schools hit by disasters, spurred by the arson at Bath’s Dike Newell School.

An arsonist in 2022 set fire to Dike Newell, destroying more than half the building and rendering it unusable. Students were moved to temporary classrooms at the former Bath Regional Career and Technical Center and could remain there for the next several years.

The Dike Newell School in Bath after a fire broke out June 10, 2022. Maria Skillings / The Times Record file photo

Bath-area school officials applied for emergency aid to build a new school but were denied by the Maine Board of Education, which said the state is already near the $150 million debt service limit for other school construction projects.

“Under current law, the urgency of these (school construction) requests and a school’s position on the funding waitlist is not impacted by any urgent needs or emergencies,” Vitelli said. “That means that, while the Dike Newell Elementary School was already on the Capital School Construction Fund waitlist, the major damage caused by an act of arson did not move the school any further up the list. When schools sustain dire, unforeseeable damage, there needs to be a way for the state to acknowledge this and help disperse the funding needed to rebuild or make repairs.”

Vitelli’s bill, L.D. 2170, would require the Board of Education to prioritize school construction projects affected by an “unanticipated and sudden natural or human-made disaster.”

The Board of Education opposes the bill. Chairperson Fern Desjardins testified during a public hearing this week that the board has to consider many factors in new school construction projects, including enrollment figures and the condition of schools students are moved to due to a disaster versus the condition of other schools.


Katie Joseph, assistant superintendent of the Bath-area Regional School Unit 1, testified in support of the bill, saying “emergency situations” like a fire do not happen often.

“We respect the process used to develop the school construction list; however, we strongly feel exceptions should be made,” she said. “A school facility that is declared uninhabitable as a result of an unanticipated natural or human-made disaster should be approved before a regular school construction project, especially if the priority is the health and safety of students.”

Steven Bailey, executive director of Maine School Management Association, testified the organization doesn’t have a position on the bill but he brought up some concerns.

“Our associations support and understand the needs of districts that have dealt with disasters, be they fire, flooding or wind damage,” he said. “We are neither for nor against this bill, however, because we believe there should be a separate funding stream for emergencies or disasters.

“Funding should not come out of major capital improvement funds for new construction or significant renovations, which already are underfunded given the age of many of our schools. … We believe this bill would knock some districts off the major capital improvement funds list, and that is not appropriate, fair or in keeping with what we believe the initial intent of the capital construction fund was to be.

“Perhaps now is the time to look at how we fund typical school construction, renovation, and repairs or rebuilding due to unforeseen disasters and put a realistic price tag on what is needed during a regular, ongoing basis.”


John Kosinski, director of government relations at the Maine Education Association, issued a similar sentiment.

“The bigger point is that our state is not doing enough to help more schools meet their capital needs,” Kosinski testified. “Whether the emergency is caused by an arsonist, freezing pipes or failure to regularly update our schools, our schools have significant capital construction needs that our state is not doing enough to mitigate and/or rectify.

“Allowing one type of project to jump the line will certainly help some communities, but others will be disadvantaged. This is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. We feel strongly the better approach is to augment the amount of school construction capacity available to help support local communities, address their capital construction concerns and to detach the downward pressure school construction currently places on state aid to local schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated John Kosinski’s first name based on an error in testimony documents.

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