Penquis Valley School facility upgrade referendum set for May 10

Stuart Hedstrom • April 10, 2018

MILO — A project to make the Penquis Valley School complex more energy-efficient will be heading to the voters of Atkinson, Brownville, LaGrange and Milo on Thursday, May 10. Eight days prior the public is invited to learn more at an information meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2 in the Penquis Valley cafeteria. Both events were set by the SAD 41 school board during an April 4 meeting.

“This would be about a $2.35 million project,” Superintendent Michael Wright said in going through a project overview prepared by Honeywell for the last school board meeting in February.

The project objectives are to update the steam heating system that is beyond its useful life, to improve reliability, comfort, indoor air quality and safety. Other objectives are to replace old windows to improve comfort and save energy, reduce the annual energy and operating costs and also reduce future building repair costs.

The conversion from steam to hot water would cost a little more than $2,031,370, an LED lighting upgrade would be $160,360, another $100,000 would be for window replacement and $33,600 would go toward building envelope upgrades. The total cost is $2,325,334.

Wright said the district is looking at a 20-year bond through the Maine Municipal Bond Bank. He said at a fixed estimated rate of 3 percent the annual gross bond cost would be $156,277 before four areas of savings.

The existing budget cost offsets are $21,787. “They guarantee we would save that much in our operating budget,” Wright said about a promise made by Honeywell officials.

“We estimated we could cut $40,000 from our maintenance line from our budget,” he said. Savings are also planned with a $25,000 reduction in Honeywell service contract payments and another $5,000 reduction in the maintenance budget.

“Together that would lead to a significant reduction in that $156,000,” Wright said. The annual project cost would go from the $156,277 annual bond cost to an annual net cost of $64,490 — with an estimated $418,177 net project cost.

“It would not impact the FY 2019 budget, it would impact the FY 2020 budget,” he said.

A project timeline says that should the referendum pass on May 10, the execution of the loan and Honeywell contracts would be done on May 18. Construction would start June 8 with substantial completion done by Sept. 28 and the project signed off on Nov. 30.

Wright mentioned the district has applied to the state for $7 million to construct an elementary wing on the Sebec River side of the Penquis Valley complex. “We will know in a year if we were approved or not,” he said, saying this project would bring all pre-kindergarten to grade 4 students to campus to join their older peers.

In other business, the board gave its formal approval via an 8-2 weighted vote to the Atkinson withdrawal agreement which allow the community to leave SAD 41 starting in the 2019-20 school year. The decision came after an approximate 35-minute executive session with legal counsel.

The document, which has already been approved by the Atkinson withdrawal committee, needs to be reviewed by the Maine Department of Education and would then go to a referendum in Atkinson in November (citizens may also be voting on a deorganization question then).

Per the withdrawal agreement, should Atkinson deorganize the community would pay $275,000 to SAD 41 and cover 10 percent of debt incurred through June 30, 2019.

Before the vote board member Terry Knowles of Brownville said he could not support the proposal. “In Brownville I see people losing their homes and I’m not sure long-term if it’s going to be good for the people of Brownville and I’m not sure if it’s going to be good for this district long-term.”

Board member Denise Hamlin of Milo said the district’s subsidy is based on the number of students. “Our count will continue to go down,” she said. “There’s no guarantee we will make up that subsidy.”

A little less than two dozen Atkinson students attend SAD 41 presently, and several of these pupils will graduate before the withdrawal agreement takes effect.

In the current approximate $8.5 million budget, Atkinson is funding $244,702 or 10.55 percent of the $2,318,720 local contribution.

“The budget process, right now we have been meeting with administrators gathering their requests for next year,” Wright said about the development of the 2018-19 finances.

“I would see us setting up some meetings after April vacation,” he said about the budget committee.

Wright said based on the current year’s useage, insurance costs may stay the same as in 2017-18. He said there looks to be a $600,000 boost in special education funds and a $177,000 small school adjustment.

“So these two things were very helpful,” he said.

“We have heard a lot about the culture here at school and we want to talk firsthand to the kids about it,” Wright said. The superintendent said he asked student council adviser Candy Clukey to put together a group of pupil representatives to share concerns of the student body with himself, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kelley Weiss and school social worker Amber Gahagan.

“We are concerned about what we are hearing and we want to reach out to the students,” Wright said. He said a survey is being planned to allow more students to provide input.

“We are aware of concerns and we are trying to do everything we can to help,” Wright said.

Spring sports coach appointments were made. DJ Martin will be the high school baseball coach and Jeremy Durost will lead the middle school team. Erin Weston will coach the high school softball team and Brian Wiles is the middle school softball coach. Lucas Grinnell will head the track program with Sasha Bladen assisting.

In order for Martin to serve as the high school baseball coach, his wife Stacie Martin needed to step down from the school board. Martin’s letter of resignation was accepted and she was thanked for her years of service to the district as a LaGrange representative.