The Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors approved a land trade between the district, the Waldo County YMCA and a local businessman who offered to convey his own property to the RSU in exchange for a parcel of district-owned property.

The board made the decision at its regular meeting Tuesday night, May 8, after the trade was presented to the full board as a recommendation from the district buildings and grounds committee.

Director and committee member Stephen Hopkins said Larry Jones of Belfast, a local businessman and longtime supporter of the YMCA, offered a parcel of land that is adjacent to Troy Howard Middle School in exchange for another lot the district currently leases to the YMCA. Hopkins said the YMCA has a 99-year lease on the land it is currently utilizing, which includes a parking lot, playground, athletic field and a community garden.

The lot Jones offered the district is about 236,000 square feet — about the same size as the parcel the YMCA now leases from the district — and is located on the back side of the THMS building. The property exchange would benefit the RSU, said Hopkins, because the property Jones is offering includes a right-of-way to the Edgecomb Road.

“If we deed [the RSU-owned land] to the YMCA, that gives us some amount of acreage on the back side of Troy Howard Middle School,” said Hopkins, who added the trade is better than the alternative of maintaining the lease on land the district cannot use.

“It seems like a win-win,” said Hopkins.

In a memorandum from Superintendent Bruce Mailloux addressed to the directors, Mailloux said the land Jones proposes to give the district in exchange for the leased land may be useful for the district in the future.

“Should there be future development on the ‘back 40,’ access via Edgecomb Road would be a big asset,” he stated in the memo.

Director Dorothy Odell suggested the district consider selling the lease to the YMCA, a move she said would help with the district’s current budget situation.

“That would give some money to us, right here and now,” she said.

Director Debora Riley made a motion to accept the land-swap deal, which attained an immediate second.

Director Tony Bagley said he was not in favor of asking the YMCA for money.

“The value the YMCA contributes to the students of the RSU is far superior to any amount of money we’d get for a piece of land,” he said, and noted the land Jones is offering is more valuable because much of the land the YMCA leases from the district cannot be developed because it’s mostly “swamp land.”

Director Orya Shomron asked if the district was getting any rent for the leased land, and Mailloux said the rent was set at $1 when the lease was established in 1999. Shomron asked what difference it made to the YMCA to own the land as opposed to continuing the lease.

“I guess the benefit is really more to us,” said Board Chair Jean Dube.

“If they lease the property and they have an opportunity to own it because of the generosity of a citizen, why not?” Mailloux said. Mailloux added that the proposal was initially came as the result of an offer from Jones, not leadership at the YMCA.

Riley, who also served on the former SAD 34 board, said she recalled discussions about the land swap involving Jones back in the late 1990s.

“This has always been the intent,” she said.

At that point, the board passed a motion to cease debate, but Director Shomron made it clear he was not finished with the topic, continuing to inquire about how long the deal had been in the works after the board agreed to move the question.

After the board approved the land-swap and the meeting adjourned, Shomron expressed displeasure at the way the land deal was handled. He said he was unhappy with the fact that the board ceased debate on the issue without first having a “meaningful discussion” about it, and said he felt it was a matter of maintaining transparency and keeping the public as informed as possible.