Playground group given go ahead for grant applications

Stuart Hedstrom, Piscataquis Observer • February 6, 2020

MILO — In 2018 a committee formed to create a play area for the younger students at Penquis Valley Middle School. The group was later given approval by the SAD 41 school board to pursue fundraising opportunities and work with volunteers on prepping a parcel of land behind the school that was first cleared two and a half decades ago by the Army Corps of Engineers.

During a Feb. 5 school board meeting at the Penquis Valley School, the directors authorized the committee to apply for a grant from the Libra Foundation as well as the Maine Community Foundation.

Superintendent Michael Wright said retired Brownville Elementary Principal Lynn Weston requested the school board give its approval for the Libra Foundation grant application. “There’s no guarantee we would get it but Lynn would be able to file it and I would write a letter in support,” he said. “I think we would take any money for it that we could get.”

Wright said for more than three decades the Libra Foundation has provided funding to non-profit programs around the state. In Piscataquis County the Foundation has provided for the Piscataquis County Ice Arena in Dover-Foxcroft and the arts program in Monson.

Grade 5-6 social studies teacher Debora Page said, “We have about six grants that we are working on now and we have divided the different parts of the playground.” She said the Libra Foundation grant application is for equipment such as a zip line and climbing wall.

“Playgrounds are very expensive and we have a contract with the company, it’s $200,000, we haven’t signed it yet,” Page said. “We are very hopeful and our momentum is building.”

“We are hoping we can have certain pieces in place this summer,” she said, mentioning a soccer/kick ball field as an example. “It’s going to be great for the community.”

She said the Brownville-based Bishop Concrete and Earl W. Jr. Gerrish and Sons have both donated time and materials for the project and a New Hampshire business will donate wood chips. When asked, Page said nearly $8,000 has been raised in three months.

Four years ago SAD 41 fifth-graders moved from the district elementary schools to Penquis Valley, which lacked any outdoor equipment for them to use at recess. A committee was formed to look into setting up an age-appropriate play area with the assistance of parents, grandparents and other community members to work with Director of Building and Grounds Donnie Richards.

During the November school board meeting Page said currently the students have “a pretty beat up basketball court and a mound of dirt and two old tires, it’s pretty sad. They still have fun but I think we can do better.”

Page said what is installed depends on how much funds are raised but ideas include a kickball/softball field, basketball court, walking route and benches — as well as security cameras — and the space could be used by the community during non-school hours. 

In other business Wright said, “We did get our initial ED 279 from the state. It looks very favorable for SAD 41, it looks like we will be getting about $380,000 more than last year. As you know some years it’s been less than the year before.”

The current SAD 41 budget represents a near $562,700 increase from $9,077,841 the year before. The 2019-20 spending plan is comprised in part by $5,877,800 in Essentials Programs & Services (EPS) funds from the state, which is a near $147,000 increase.

In order to get the $5.8 million-plus the three SAD 41 towns were required by the state to raise a combined $1,347,156. This EPS local required amount is $238,469 less than the $1,585,625 for 2018-19.

Last month the possibility of creating a resource officer position to work across the three district schools was discussed by the school board. Wright had a template using resource officer job descriptions from other area school units to hand out to the school board, “I think if you took a look at it we could discuss it more.”

He said the description specifies “what a resource officer is responsible for rather than a building administrator.”

In the region both the Dexter-based SAD 46 and RSU 68/Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft have school resource officers who are members of the respective town police departments.

Brownville Elementary Principal Carol Smith said students there have finished the WinterKids Winter Games competition, taking part in a range of activities over four weeks to start the new year.

“We didn’t come in first, second or third, I believe we came in ninth but out of 32 schools that’s not bad,” Smith said, with two schools from each county selected to participate each year. “I do believe we will get some prizes out of it, no money though.”

In her report Smith wrote that during the WinterKids Winter Games students learned about science, math, nutrition and physical activities, including from several guest presenters during Winter Carnival. The pupils took part in a sliding station and snowshoeing station outdoors and skated at the Piscataquis County Ice Arena — many lacing up ice skates for the first time.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
PENQUIS VALLEY FACILITY REFERENDUM THURSDAY -- On Thursday, March 14 residents of the SAD 41 communities of Atkinson, Brownville, LaGrange and Milo will head to their respective polls to vote on a $2.4 million energy infrastructure upgrade project for the Penquis Valley School in Milo. The project would update the 50-year-old steam heating system -- converting from steam to hot water -- and make LED lighting upgrades and building weatherization improvements. The estimated net cost for the district is $744,143 to be paid over 20 years.