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MSAD 1 invites public to ‘right-sizing’ info meeting

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Maine School Administrative District 1 is holding a public meeting Tuesday, Jan. 16, on the district’s efforts to “right-size” school buildings and their associated costs.

The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Presque Isle Middle School Auditorium, will feature an update and discussion on the right-sizing process from district officials and Oak Point Associates, the New Hampshire-based architecture and planning firm hired as a consultant to the project.

“The community is being asked to attend, listen, and provide feedback for Oak Point to finalize recommendations,” said an MSAD 1 press release on the meeting. “This information will be used to set the direction and create a foundation of capital facilities needs for MSAD 1 for the next 20 years.”

The MSAD 1 board of directors and administrators have been discussing right-sizing the district’s five schools for more than a year, with the goal of finding a solution to address the costs associated with lower student enrollment and maintaining older buildings.

Over the last 30 years, MSAD 1 enrollment has declined by an average of 1.5 percent each year. At one point there were 1,300 students at Presque Isle High School, while today there are less than 600, according to district officials. They estimate that MSAD 1 will have a total student enrollment of less than 1,700 in 2020, down from around 1,800 in 2016-2017. At the same time, many school costs have stayed the same or increased, such as student transportation and building maintenance.

At a public meeting last March, assistant superintendent for business Clint Deschene said that the long-term enrollment decline may be levelling off, along with the region’s decades of out migration. But MSAD 1 and many rural school districts are still going into a future with smaller student populations than before.  

The MSAD 1 board of directors’ strategic planning committee has endorsed a conceptual right-sizing plan that would consolidate current buildings and possibly include building a new school — depending on whether the district can win state school construction funding. Several different options have been proposed and discussed, though none have been chosen and the district won’t learn if it can receive state construction funds until March.

If MSAD 1 were awarded new school funding, it could build a new elementary school for pre-kindergarten to grade 8, according to its application with the Maine Department of Education.

This option would bring elementary students, teachers and staff to one place, and would allow for the closure of Pine Street, Zippel Elementary and Presque Isle High School. The high school and other district departments and programs could then be relocated to the current middle school, which was built in 2005 and now is only about half full.

Other options, without funding from the state, include closing Pine Street Elementary and consolidating grades and programs across other buildings.

Any district plan for school closure or construction would have to be approved by the board of directors and in a referendum by local voters.

The meeting on Jan. 16 will have updated conceptual drawings of the district’s schools and comparisons of different building and closure options and associated cost estimates.

These estimates will give the public a good idea of what to expect for multiple scenarios, including if the district does not receive any state funding for a new school.

Deschene said that the DOE usually funds a small percentage of projects from the list of applicants, and the district may have to wait another decade before being chosen to receive state funds.

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