Stockton Springs Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell confirmed that voters in that town have agreed to take ownership of the elementary school within its borders.

According to unofficial results from the June 11 election, 230 Stockton voters were in favor of accepting the school, while 57 were against.

In May, Regional School Unit 20 offered to Searsport and Stockton Springs the mold-infested and vacant elementary school. Selectmen in both towns opted to put a question on the ballot asking the will of the voters on whether the building and land should be accepted at no charge.

Stockton Springs selectmen recommended accepting the school but the Searsport board did not take a position. Searsport voters rejected accepting the school with a vote of 38 in favor and 55 against.

The school, built in 1975, was closed in April 2017 but initially continued to see some community use. It has been completely vacant since June 2017.

In a presentation May 23, O'Donnell reviewed several options for the school and/or property.

According to a mold assessment report from Air Quality Management Services Inc. dated Feb. 14, 2019, mold growth was discovered inside the building in August 2018. A month later, AQM was retained to study the extent of the mold problem. The company determined the school is a “condition 3” — “the worst possible level of mold,” O’Donnell said.

Recommendations included in the AQM report include hiring a mold remediation company to remove all of the sheetrock and other materials covering walls and ceilings, all carpets and flooring, and all pipe insulation. Cleaning of all other surfaces is required and testing must be done to verify eradication of the mold.

The school district received four bids for mold remediation that range from $145,850 to $385,000. If Stockton Springs voters decide to make use of the building, it will fall to the town to pay for mold remediation and testing, asbestos removal and rebuilding the interior.

Stockton Springs’ current insurance company refuses to insure the building beyond general liability because of the mold, O’Donnell said. She's received an estimated cost of $1,500-$2,000 per year for liability coverage. On June 12, O'Donnell clarified the liability coverage is for the property — meaning if someone is hurt on the grounds, it would be covered by insurance. Any new damage to the shuttered school, such as a broken window, will not be covered because of its condition, she said.

“The insurance money would come from the budget,” O’Donnell said during the May presentation, adding the administrative portion can absorb the additional funding without a problem. No other funding has been set aside in the municipal budget for the school, which means a special town meeting will be required to approve any spending beyond liability insurance.

Demolition of part or all of the building and retention of the nearly 10 acres of land would cost less. O’Donnell said she received a rough estimate of between $50,000 and $80,000 to demolish the building and noted it is not the mold at issue with demolition, but asbestos. There are some known asbestos floor tiles in the building and there could be more asbestos elsewhere, she said.

Other uses discussed at the May 23 meeting may be considered for the property as well, such as a new fire station, a business incubator, community trails, a farmers' market, a trade school or development by an independent contractor.

More public meetings are expected, which will help selectmen decide how to proceed with the building and property and authorize additional funding for the work.

Budget passes

Searsport voters accepted the RSU 20 budget with a vote of 68-22. Stockton Springs voters also approved the budget, with unofficial results of 196 in favor and 81 opposed.

The 2019-2020 proposed budget is $10,348,201, plus a food service budget of $194,000, bringing the total to more than $10.5 million. This represents increases of $94,612, or 2.98%, for Searsport and $14,573, or 0.56%, for Stockton Springs. The combined overall increase is $109,186, or 1.89%.

New positions include an ed tech who will serve all district schools, a facilities and maintenance position, a case manager at the elementary school and a part-time physical education/health teacher to be shared by the middle and high schools.

Other staff changes include a middle school guidance position increased to five from 2 1/2 days per week and an occupational therapy position increased to five days per week from four.

The budget also eliminated a middle and high school science department position and reduced the hours of an occupational therapy assistant. As well, a middle and high school social worker was reduced to two days per week from four.

Increasing the bottom line is continued funding for a school resource officer as well as $5,326 for Waldo County Technical Center, which was not required last year. The additional funding makes up for a portion of the tech center budget not covered by its Maine Department of Education subsidy.

Regular instruction is the largest proposed expenditure at nearly $3 million. The $2,971,040 approved includes salaries, benefits and supplies for pre-K through grade 12. It is followed closely by special education at $2,549,864, which includes costs for students receiving services other than provided by regular instruction, as well as all special education salaries, benefits and contracted services.

Enrollment last year was down slightly at the elementary school, with 231 students in contrast to 239 in 2017. Middle school numbers remained the same at 117, but the high school also saw a reduction in students to 147 this year, compared to 166 in 2017.